Badgers Move on to Iowa

Up eight spots to No.14 in the AP poll after blowing out Nebraska, Wisconsin starts the task of refocusing for another physical rivalry game when it travels to Iowa City this weekend to take on the Hawkeyes. Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen addresses the media.

Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen

Looking back to last week, obviously what Melvin (Gordon) did was fantastic and the support cast around him was phenomenal. You look back at the tape, those offensive linemen played as good of a game that the five of them have played together all year long -- I thought the tight end block and the fullbacks was very good there, was very good at that spot and the wide receivers did some great things down the field -- but those five young men up front did an outstanding job of what I don't think, I know, is a very good defensive for the University of Nebraska. I think that needs to be pointed out, especially when Coach (T.J.) Woods can go through that film and evaluate it and make those same statements. Also, the play of Joe Schobert was huge in this game, forced some big-time plays. Defense was very solid overall.

Obviously it was a good win as we move forward and get ready for the next one. Iowa is always a challenge to go -- been there once -- but it's a challenge to go there and play. It's a very good crowd, I'm sure it will be a packed house as it is each and every week, much like you see in the Big Ten, but we're excited to go down there and play. It's obviously a game that is late in the year and has a lot of meaning. We will get on the bus and move on over to the game. Both teams are playing for a lot at this time of year so, really, at the end of the day, what more could you ask for? They're a powerful run game, they haven't changed, especially the last couple of weeks as far as what they want to be, and I think they are at their best as far as being a physical, powerful football team, running the ball with a big offensive line with a ton of experience, good tight ends, two or three tailbacks roll in and out of there. Receivers caught my eye this year, I think they can catch the ball down the field in the games they have played well, they have caught the ball well down the field with both quarterbacks throwing it to them, and defensively more of the same. Big, tough kids.

The front seven, those tackles are as good as we'll play, and said that last week but they're as good as we'll play again. They're very, very talented players, physical, tough-minded and the defense is coached very well, so it will be a tremendous challenge.

QUESTION: Gary, back on the offensive line for a second, what was the biggest area of uncertainty with that unit coming in, in your mind? Was it pass protection or would they be as good at clearing lanes for running backs as you had hoped?

ANDERSEN: For the Nebraska game? Their overall this season? Yeah. I would have probably said the pass protection, if I had to pick one of those right now, which I think they've been pretty solid at. At the beginning that would have been any number one concern.

QUESTION: Continuing with the offensive line, it's pretty unbelievable to think that Melvin can go for 48 against Nebraska but 38 against Western Illinois. What's the biggest difference the offensive line is doing since week two?

ANDERSEN: I can't say back and say I've critiqued it enough to ask that question. We're on the same page, they are targeted very well from what Coach Woods and Coach Ludwig tell me. I think they're playing well as a team and as a unit. A lot goes into that as you warned through a season and get prepared to play other people, but they execute at a high level in that setting, in that situation. I think one thing you can't go without noticing, our ability to get the ball to the edges of the defense forces people to be not gang up on us as much, our ability to throw the ball, we didn't throw a ball a bunch against Nebraska, nor did we need to throw the ball a bunch against Nebraska but we have had the ability to throw the ball when teams want to gang up on us more so this year. The game you mentioned earlier, we didn't run the ball very well, we threw a ball, and I think that's the game Tanner set a school record for the most completions in a game. If they make it plus 2 in the box, we will have to throw it around a little bit.

QUESTION: The offensive line, how would you subscribe the personality of that group?

ANDERSEN: Tough-minded young men, a lot of pride in what they do. They come to work every single day and probably what most of us would envision in our minds is a Wisconsin offensive lineman being a tough, rugged kid, a lot of care factor, they're also very smart. They prepare well, all season long; they prepare well in the off-season, which that's -- kind of gives you the idea of the character that they have. Also their care factor, not to just run the ball well but to play well and be part of the Wisconsin offensive line tradition means an awful lot to those kids.

QUESTION: Joe Schobert is a guy that nearly got away to North Dakota, where he wound up here kinda last minute. Is he a guy that has flown under the radar a bit, a late developer? What has stood out about him this season?

ANDERSEN: Joe is very, very athletic. He's almost what I say is -- don't always this is a tremendous trait for a football player, but it is for Joe he's a patient player because things are easy for them on the field a lot of times. He's extremely smart. He came here and decided to come to Wisconsin and be able to walk on, which is great. I'm glad he did. I'm glad he's on scholarship now because he's very well deserving to be on scholarship, obviously, and be part of our program and excited about the opportunity to have him continue to grow and develop.

He makes big plays. He's a good pass rusher, hard to block, regardless of who is going against him in the pass rushing situations. In the run game he's statute enough and strong enough to be able to get his hands on you and knock you back, but he also has the ability to be athletic enough to make you miss. You can see him do that snap in and snap out. He will cause people problems by his athleticism on the field and his intelligence on the field.

QUESTION: Earlier this year Melvin talked about as he looked down the road, he did not want to go through what he did last year where his yards per carry went down in the second half of the season. His yards per carry are up now compared to where they were in the first half. In addition to the blocking why do you think he has been more productive so far through the second half than he was in the first half or a year ago?

ANDERSEN: Melvin this year, if I just -- I haven't gone back and studied the tape from a year ago, but it seems to me that his angles are phenomenal. They were very good last year, but his ability to -- maybe it's presnap a little bit, I don't know, but his ability to get up to the next level and make the cuts initially to get on to the one defender without another defender not having a angle coming from the other side is, you know, something that I know I could never do anything like that, that's for sure.

He's much better at that. Number two, I would say his power, where he's really got his eyes over his toes, when he puts the ball in his hand in traffic and his ability to see the holes has always been tremendous.

But the arm tackles, he's breaking many more of those at the line of scrimmage and quite frankly the head-up tackles he's dealing with in those situations, you see a lot of guys bouncing off him in the holes, some are squared up on him, and I didn't see as much of that a year ago, so I think it's a combination of a lot of things but it's a combination of one thing, after it's all said and done, it's hard work for himself to get himself in tremendous shape like he always was, but he's a notch above where he was before this season.

QUESTION: We probably talked about the quarterback position too much this year, but how important has it been for you to realize what you had there and then Andy developing a way to make these guys pluses instead of minuses, maybe?

ANDERSEN: Co-exist within the offense? It's been -- it's important. It really, truly is. I think now that we all can see what's taken place on the field a little bit, it's obviously two highly competitive kids that have a huge care factor, have the ability at times to take a step back and think about their team rather than just think about themselves. But now we have the dynamic, because you just talk about practice, and, you know, I'm sure Nebraska went through it and all the teams we've played and I'm sure Iowa is going to go through it too, they have to spend a lot of time practicing the spread, and if we can eat up 15, 20 minutes a take at practice, but they would like to use working on 13 personnel, 21 personnel, the power, all the stuff that has to do with our normal offense, and the play-action shots plus the play-actions, you can't get it all practiced the way that you want to be able to practice it. So that's the positive for us as a whole, as an offense and as a football program.

But for those kids, I'm excited for their success. It does you good to put a smile on your face when you see Joe go out there and do what he did in the last games and the games prior to this and I know we didn't throw the ball a lot last game, but, again, we didn't really need to. When -- his opportunity to affect the game is always important in the way he checks the ball, and the way he did throw the ball. The one throw got us going offensively, it's third down, converted, I think we scored the next play or within two plays after that, which was huge. He got out of the way, he took a big shot again. Joel can stand in there and take a shot with the any of them from those big defensive linemen or linebackers, whoever it may be and the last game I ended up taking a time-out because I couldn't tell if he caught his breath or if he was hurt or lost his breath or where he was, and he comes over and says, "I'm all right," shakes it off and moves onward, and for Tanner to be able to affect the game in a positive way for him it's great to see him having success moving to the quarterback position this year.

QUESTION: Melvin had six or seven runs of 35 yards or more, seemed he was ripping off chunks and chunks of yardage. Sometimes it's fun to compare running backs through the years. Who was the last one you can remember watching that you thought had that explosiveness of Melvin Gordon this year?

ANDERSEN: You know, I don't remember one and, again, I don't sit back and study all the running backs that are out there, but what Melvin does, whether I've watched it on TV or I see it firsthand on the sidelines as a coach, there is nobody that has the ability to play with that explosiveness and to just all of the sudden away he goes! It's amazing to see what he does. Then to see the consistency that he's able to do it with, when he is given the opportunity to get a crease. I've been lucky as a head coach to coach some tremendous backs and two or three of them are playing in the NFL, and they're great players, but I've never seen a guy like Melvin do in college what he does inside and outside of the tackle box, it's incredible.

QUESTION: The spotlight has been on Melvin all season long, and you've praised the way he's handled this, everything coming his way but with the last couple weeks coming up in a game that he just had, the national spotlight seems like it would be even more magnified. Do you have any concerns that that can wear on a college kid?

ANDERSEN: No, I don't at all with Melvin, and I don't think it will, for a lot of reasons. Number one, Melvin won't allow it; number two, his mom won't allow it; number three, Brian promised me he won't allow it, and for myself, I just want to be able to be there and communicate with him and talk with him as needed, but what I believe is going to happen with Melvin in the last two weeks is you're going to see him more driven than ever because he wants to have a shot at that championship for his team and he also wants the chance to be the best college player in football and those are both there.

I have no doubts that Melvin is going to do nothing more than crank it up a notch and he will be able to push away all those distractions and he will be very prepared when the opportunity presents itself, and he will have to be, if we're going to do what we want to do as a team; he's going to have a great player for us this next week for us to be able to win.

QUESTION: Going back to Joe Schobert, has he surprised you at all with his improvement this year or were you guys expecting this type of break out?

ANDERSEN: On the end of the line of scrimmage and his rushing the passer, I would say he's better at that than I thought he would be. I don't know if "surprise" is the word, but his ability to play with strength on the line of scrimmage with the big tackles, last year we tried to protect him, a little bit more, not really have him on the end of the line of scrimmage as much in the run game, and he didn't have to play nearly as much as he did a year ago. He wasn't playing every snap last year, Ethan was in there, whoever was playing that, B.K., whoever was playing that spot.

So his ability to do that on the line of scrimmage and his pass rush and the run that's coming right at him, yeah, it's been impressive and not surprisingly but a pleasant surprise, I would have to say, but then his ability to be involved in our drops, he's out sometimes in space on a wide receiver. He's out sometimes in space on a tight end, his man coverage skills, he's doing that as well as he did in spring ball and we expected him to be able to do that. He's had a tremendous year, and I believe he will continue to, which, again, he needs to. Both those outside backers are kind of our big-play guys right now on the defense, along with Lanisch, need to make those big plays.

QUESTION: Gary, it looks like Dave has gotten comfortable with going with two down lineman, four backers and five DBs, and traditionally if you look at that scheme, you think, okay, the other team is going to run the ball down your throat and do it effectively, but they haven't been able to do that. What has been the success of that look that Dave likes to use?

ANDERSEN: The big thing is Vinnie -- Vince Biegel -- I use Vinnie too much sometimes. Vince Biegel has the ability to play and get his hand on the ground when he needs to. It's not every snap, it's just every once in a while. This last game we actually had to do that a couple of times with Joe and Joe hung in there and did a good job. I don't feel good about doing that snap in or snap out with Dave but I do with Vince. I feel like he could go in there, and as long as we put him in a productive situation with the tackle, I think he can hang in there and do a nice job. That's one key piece to the puzzle. Where it is an outside linebacker, but it's got a little bit of a slash to a potential defensive end.

And the other thing is those two inside tackles or ends, whoever you want to call those kids, I think, have grown and got better and we have enough of them that we can flow through there and rotate them in. This week is probably going to be different. We are going to have to play with more, three -- Joe Schobert is a true outside backer and Vinnie is an outside backer, and the defensive linemen much more in this week, assuming we can have Zagz back and ready to go.

QUESTION: Getting back to Gary Ludwig and the offense, is your trust in your coordinator explicit from the get-go or does it evolve as the season goes along?

ANDERSEN: I trust both those coordinators, they're going to be prepared and playing well assumes their lives week in and week out. You can see it at the beginning of the season, you can see it as the season wears on, it's taxing, it's a grind, they love it. They probably don't do what's best for them from a health standpoint as much as I wish they would sometimes as hard as they grind and the things that they do, but those guys are grinders, they're workaholics, they're going to do everything they can to get their side of the ball into a position. They do a nice job with recruiting, so -- but I will say this, I think they mold with the season as the team moves with the kids, the personnel that they have within their offense and defense every year.

I think -- I know they do a very good job with that and you can look at that this year with what's happened on offense, what he is happened on defense and really quite frankly what Bill and Jeff have done with special teams how the pieces of the puzzle are continuously moving, and you're trying to get the best fit to win in these games in 2014 and all those coordinators do a great job with that.

QUESTION: It's only your second year but have you embraced these rivalry games, you got two in a row and two history kick trophy games coming up.

ANDERSEN: They're fun, without question. I was fortunate enough to be able to grow up around a rivalry as a little kid, it was a big one, and then I was fortunate enough to be able to play in that same rivalry. We were fortunate enough at Utah State to kinda recreate a rivalry within the Utah State and BYU game as it continued to move forward. So used to play in them, and I know how much they mean, and I know how important they are. There are different levels of rivalries. Some of them I've been to and I'm like, well that's not like the rivalry I grew up in, but these are. That's special. Even the Nebraska rivalry, I believe, will grow, is it like the next two we're going to play, no, but it's brand new. I think that will continue to move down the lines.

There's rivalry games and then there's trophy games, and I would say right now one of our three is a trophy game and the other two are rivalry games. One of them is this week, and we're very excited about it. I know the kids on their side will be, our kids on our side will be. It's great for the fans, and it has a little extra edge to it.

I think it's important in rivalries that there is respect on both sides, by the players and by the coaches and how we represent ourselves, because you know your rivals better than you know any other teams within the conference. That's something I've always believed in. We have a great deal of respect for Iowa, just as we do for Minnesota, and we're excited to play these rivalry games and they're two very good programs fighting for a championship just like we are.

QUESTION: There were two instances in the game with Nebraska where fumbles were reviewed. It seems to have similar circumstances to them, but different outcomes came about. What explanation did you get from those two? What was your reaction at the time?

ANDERSEN: You know, I didn't really get any explanation nor did I really ask for it. I don't know what I can -- those guys are down the field, the guys in the box are doing their job, and all they're going to do is pass on information. That was -- it is what it is, and I'll ask for a little bit of an idea of what they were thinking. But, you know, I think the information that comes down from the box, in my opinion right now, is sometimes much more concerning than the information that there is coming from the field. I get an explanation on the field very, very good, it's very consistent.

It's the answer, right, so you can yell and scream and flip and roll around on the ground, if that's what you want to do but, that's not the way that I opt to go. I would rather -- I get irritated sometimes and probably should keep my mouth shut sometimes more than I do but that is the information I get on the field. Sometimes from up top, it gets a little bit confusing but, again, what can I do? I can't run up to the press box and ask them to change it but those are two bang-bang calls and, you know, what was called on the field, I thought, was the way it was going to stay in both situations but that didn't exactly take place.

QUESTION: I think it was July or August when you were reflecting on last season and mentioned how Iowa, that game stood out as one of the more physical, tough games physically that you went through last year. Are you expecting some of the same this year?

ANDERSEN: Yeah, exactly. It will be much of the same. It's going to be big, physical kids going at it and they're very good at it. You just watch the offensive line, the way they play, it's kind of like watching our kids, in my opinion. Well coached, good football players excited about the job they get to do to be an offensive linemen, so that's a great challenge for the defense, and it's going to be physical on both sides. Physical running backs, wide receivers have a chance to get physical in this game; they're going to get physical. Their full back is very physical, our full back is physical.

So it's going to be a "bang-around" game and that's a little bit of an interesting part to this whole last few games we're playing with Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota, it's kind of the round robin, right, everybody is playing each other as you're going through it, and they're all physical teams.

It's kinda the battle within the battle, if you will, a little bit as we go from playing Nebraska and Nebraska goes from playing us and now we go to playing Iowa. It's a physical game we just played and now we've got to go lineup and play another one, so we got to be careful how we practice them but this will be one of the most physical games that we play every year we're in the Big Ten and obviously we will be and they'll be on our side forever.

QUESTION: When you mentioned playing a three-man front against Iowa, you said it depends on if you get Zagz back, when do you know and what's the status there?

ANDERSEN: Zagz didn't feel 100% on his ankle, if you noticed, he plays two years, I don't know how many snaps but Coach Chad and Konrad communicated with each other at some point and Konrad felt like he could have pushed off the way he needed to, did not have a setback, feels much better today than he did the beginning of last week, so I expect him to be ready to play and looking back it's probably a great move with -- by Konrad and by Coach Chad to take him out and give him the rest when he didn't feel 100 percent rather than tweaking it and taking a step backwards.

QUESTION: When you're going back over the film with Nebraska at any point do you find yourself watching Melvin through the eyes of maybe a fan and just appreciating what went into a particular run, what went into a particular play, maybe separate yourself from just being the -- breaking down the film and saying who did what on each play?

ANDERSEN: I try to go back and watch a TV copy and I find myself doing that much more in the TV copy when you can see in the slow motion and you can see it from the different angles. But when you do get to sit back and watch it as the coaches copy, his vision was incredible, and there is times when you just sit back and say, wow, what an amazing play, there is no question about it. And you cannot help yourself when that young man gets the fall in his hands and does the things he did, especially when you have such respect for the people that you play. We can't ever forget that now, how good the team was that we played, that they're going to be good, they're going to win a lot of games, they will continue to win a got of games this year as they continue to move forward so with as much respect they have for Nebraska and to understand that Melvin had the game he did against them, it comes with great respect for the opponent and great respect for Melvin and what he was able to do.

QUESTION: Gary, on the quarterback thing if we could, as that position has evolved, the last thing you did was using them interchange reply in the same series what was the impetus for that final step?

ANDERSEN: You know, Andy had talked about that and I had discussed it very little with Andy. Andy has handled this whole thing. I take no -- for anything that goes good in that situation, I take no credit for whatsoever; that's all been Andy. But he did think there was -- I'm not saying a timeline, but he had to feel comfortable with getting those kids to be in a position to just not play every serious. I'm not a quarterback guy so I don't understand what all goes into that but I was in complete support of what Coach Ludwig was saying and the direction he was going and so were the kids.

The kids communicated they liked it, they liked the opportunity to be able to play number one and the opportunity to go through series was not an issue, and then I saw him implementing it in practice, where they were kinda going in and out, which they normally do, but now there was more of an emphasis saying, this is your play, this is your situation, this is when you may go in, and I think they're prepared to handle that now, and it was the next step that Andy saw, so there may be another one out there, I don't know what it is but there might be.


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