Andersen Previews Axe Week

Wisconsin football head coach Gary Andersen met with members of the media Monday at Camp Randall Stadium to look ahead to Saturday's battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe in the 124th meeting between the Badgers and Minnesota.

Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen

That was a great win, obviously for us, highly-contested battle, as I said after the game. Ton of respect for the Iowa program, how the whole program is ran. Great to get the victory. They had a hostile environment so proud of our kids. Couple of individual efforts, Brian mentioned Melvin (Gordon). Melvin at the end did some fantastic things, which a great player does, not just what he did first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter, this game or that game and that game when we absolutely needed special plays made he made some special plays with the help of his friends but he made the special plays when he had too, which was fantastic to see and I also think Joel (Stave) did the same thing, Joel made a couple plays there when we needed them.

The scramble was a big play, the throw to Melvin was a huge play, and that was great to see for the offense to be able to quite frankly carry us through the late stages of that game when we needed the offense to do it. We weren't playing as good as we needed to on defense at times throughout that scenario.

Defensive young man I would like to bring up is Marcus Trotter. He was very, very good in that football game. He was physical, he was tough, he made tackles behind the lining of scrimmage, he ran like crazy and he played a notch above, quite frankly, the rest of our defense on that day, hands down was the best defensive player on that field for all four quarters, not just for a few moments. It was a fantastic day out of him and we needed his presence out there and it was felt.

As we move forward to this game, it's why you play at the end of the day, you get yourselves into these positions and there is a lot that comes, not just Senior Day, it's not just a rivalry game, it's not just an opportunity to go to the championship game, it's all of the above. It's two very, very good football teams that have earned their bay to this position, and they've proved throughout the year that they're a very good football team and one of us is going to be in position to move on and be able to play in the championship game.

So it's a big time moment, what kids play for and we're excited about the opportunity to start to prepare for this game and I'm proud of this group. We walk into our last week and I think the key is to get healthy, and it's the last week of regular season. It's week 12 and we talk about getting to week 12 and we'll see what's after that.

But this is game No. 12 for us and as we look at it we've got to understand what we've done the last couple of weeks, which is win critical, critical games when we needed them, highly contested games that were very, very physical at times and this last game was very physical the whole football game. We've got to get ourselves back and that's a big part of game day for me, in my opinion, this week is yesterday, today and tomorrow, I've got to do everything in my power to help these young men get back to where they need to be so they can perform on Saturday and let the coaches coach as they're prepared throughout the week, but our physical positioning early in this week is key, how we practice and get ourselves ready. The other thing is not to get too high with all the things I mentioned earlier. There is a lot going on, Senior Day out there, big game, rivalry game, again, going into the championship game all that's on the line but this is, like we talked about the first of the season, this is game 12 and that's all it is at this point and that's how we have to be able to prepare.

If you go through this in a season and you say this game is bigger than that game or this game is more important than that game, it affects your preparation and I don't think it's a good message to give the young kids and I don't think it's a good message to give to anybody on your football program. We don't all of the sudden have an extra day of practice because we're playing for an opportunity, or a rivalry or have a chance to go play in a championship it's not, our kids need to understand that.

They'll have the edge, they'll be excited, both teams will be very excited.

As far as Minnesota goes, very, very good team. They've done a nice job and I've been around Minnesota football now for just my second year, so I hear a lot of things of what was and what is and all the stuff that comes with it. I know what I know for two years, it's a great football team, it's not a good football team, it's a great football team, has been for two years. They've shown that, they're physical, they're tough, they've recruited very well, they play very, very fast on the defensive side of the football, and they're well coached throughout the offensive side of the ball, they do a tremendous job of using their playmakers to put them into position to be able to make plays. They did it last year, and they've done it all this year.

You look at the teams they've lost to this year and two of them are obviously highly, highly ranked teams and they're in position to do some special, special things with their seasons and that's two of their losses that they've gone through and they also loss to Illinois team that is now competing to be bowl eligible this week as they continue to go through their last game of the season. So very, very good competition, they played. Much respect for the staff and the kids in this room and it's fun to be part of this for the rivalry week for the seniors last game at home and for the opportunity to go to the championship, all wrapped up into one, where else would you rather be.

QUESTION: Coach, last year's Senior Day how much of that loss how much did that loss stick with you and your team?

ANDERSEN: We lost at home against a Penn State team that played better than we did on that day, so doesn't stick with me any more than any other loss, just because it's Senior Day.

I want the seniors to win every game and, again, I'm not a good that puts a big tab on a game because it's whatever, it's their last time to play in Camp Randall, cause it's emotional for coaches and players but that loss is no different than losing a bowl game to South Carolina for me in we're going to line up and be with each other for a long time here as we get ready to play for a bowl game, so it's not my last day with them, my last day with them is much more emotional than Senior Day for them as a coach.

But no worse than any other loss. Sticks with me for a long, long time. I still remember them all.

QUESTION: Gary, this Minnesota defense has done an comment job of forcing turnovers, two huge buns against Nebraska and 11 this seen, is there anything you can tell your team about that going into this game and is it just ball security? And I imagine it's more than pure luck to get that many takeaways.

ANDERSEN: Athletic defenses have the opportunity to get the ball out, and the next step is the opportunity to be able to catch it or jump on it or however you got the opportunity to have the ball getting into position to be a turnover. They've done a tremendous job with that. They're physical. They do a nice job within their zone coverages, and in man coverage to be able to create everything from miscommunications or a quarterback not seeing things right to a tipped football to sacks that come out to stripping the ball, they've done a good job. They're plus-11 and they've been consistently on the plus side throughout the year. Obviously when you're plus-11 that's the stat situation.

I stressed with our team a few weeks ago how important it was in this final stress, we started at minus-5 and we've now got that thing down to minus-2 which is a huge positive for us and if we don't get that turn over in the last game it could be a different story. It was 1 0 for us and another ball that was up in the area and we were fortunate to get. We fumbled it last week and as fate may have it, it bounced off an offensive lineman's helmet and right into our arms it's a crazy game that you play but you have to be physical and work to get it out, they do a nice job with that and we're going to have to be on guard because that's a very big part of their game and a very positive side of their football game, has been all year long.

QUESTION: You mentioned it was your job to get the guys back physically where they need to be, has it changed from previous weeks?

ANDERSEN: There is a break on some different things. For instance, we usually get up at 6:30 this morning and review the tape. We're not going to we're going to bring them in this afternoon and spend that time on the tape from the Iowa game that we need to and we're going to move on quickly to the Minnesota game. There is definitely a transition in schemes that is a little bit different than week in and week out so we challenged our young men to see the tape by themselves, evaluate the tape by themselves, quick review with the position coaches on the last game tape, move on quickly to Minnesota. That's something I've done at this point in the year many, many times and we've tapered that back but it's a little bit more this week because I think that's what we need to do.

Practice-wise we're going to be smart. We may take off the shoulder pads one day this week, we usually go two times in shoulder pads, we may take them off one time. A lot of that will be determined on how I think they look today and how they feel today and in talking to the kids they're going to tell me the truth. Because I don't worry about them playing hard or being excited for this game in any way, shape or form so I'll get information from them like I always do, I value their opinions and then I'll make some judgments from there.

Strategically practicing them early is key and I hope today gave them a chance to catch up with some sleep, a little bit extra study time and mentally give them a little bit of a breath of fresh air because we're off on Sundays completely.

QUESTION: Was there anything that you saw last week not last week, last year in the preparation for Penn State Thanksgiving week that you may change this week because of what happened in that game? Or is there anything you can put your finger on as to how you performed that day?

ANDERSEN: No, I wouldn't even be able to tell you penetrate was the Thanksgiving Day game unless you just told me that. We're going to prepare exactly the way we've always prepared, give the kids an opportunity to practice on Thursday morning, that's how I've done it. It's how Kyle Whittingham did it, it's how Urban Meyer did it, it's how Ron McBride did it, it's how LaVell Edwards did it, you give them Thursday off after an early morning practice and you come back and play. I don't know another way to do it. It seems to work well and be very successful and we will get them back Friday. We're on a normal schedule, they just don't go to school. They can see their families, get back here at 2:30 Friday and away we go. So if anything was made out of that it would be nothing other than an excuse.

QUESTION: Have you given thought to introducing Melvin on Saturday?

ANDERSEN: It's crossed my mind but as far as I know right now, Melvin is coming back. Away we go. We'll see what happens next, stay tuned!

QUESTION: Gary, Tanner scored a rushing touchdown in each of the last three games. Hoping to get your perspective on why you think he's so effective in the read option game aside from the fact that he's fast?

ANDERSEN: Yeah, the athleticism is the key, number one, but past that, this last game we could all see it was a special read he made, he got that ball out of there and for those of you that were there, you can hear the crowd cheering and the crowd quickly not cheering when they walked out of there and Tanner (McEvoy) had the ball moving down the field so he faked me out on that one and obviously faked out a bunch of the fans, too, so his ability to put the ball in there, read it on the run or pull or keep it I know is the key to his success there.

His overall ability to accept that role and take such great pride in it is the key part, also, and he had some nice blocking down the field. I was a little worried that Jordan Fredrick was going to trip him or tackle him there for a minute, that had me in a panic, I think he kind of just nudged him in the back, Quite don't know what that happened yet (Laughter) he's done some great things and he's very athletic when he gets in open spaces.

QUESTION: I think we asked you a version of this question every week now but if this is Melvin's last game can you reflect on what it's been lake to watch him grow and develop these last two seasons?

ANDERSEN: If it was all over today and we were sitting here talking about Melvin Gordon, it's been a tremendous ride and one I will never forget that I was able to be around the kid and be part of his life for two years.

From the first day I saw him in had the weight room to where he is today, and as we continue to roll forward he's going to be very successful. But to watch him grow, from a guy in the weight room, I remember the first week looking at him and saying, man, that's a great looking young man and, boy, is he strong. And then I saw him run for the first time and, boy, is he fast so I knew all that stuff and then we got him to spring ball and you saw him move through the offseason, got a little bit hampered in spring ball the first time through so we got to see flashes of him and got him into because up to that point it was, like I've told you many times, it was watching the reruns on the Big Ten Network of the Wisconsin games 500 times to see the different things that Melvin had done and watching some stuff on tape.

But you fast forward through his sophomore year and now deep into his junior year, he is just grown and blossomed as an individual in a lot of positive ways. He's become a man. If he walks out of here today, Melvin is a man and he's ready to move on in his life, he's got himself in an academic situation to get his degree very, very quickly here, which is a huge goal for Melvin. He's been on our academic success list every single semester he's been here, he's a tremendous student. What he's done to mentor our youth, I say it all the time but he's an unbelievable leader for the kids, he's an unbelievable leader on game day. When something doesn't go his way or is going his way, he's ‘steady eddie’ -- he's going to get his best shot every single week. A lot of kids in his position, they would be sitting back, thinking about is he thinking about himself or is he thinking about what's next or where it goes? He's thinking about this team first, I guarantee.

And then from a football standpoint, he's gotten better and better and better and better and everything Melvin decides he wants to get better at -- that's the difference between him and other people -- a lot of people talk the talk, but he walks the walk. ‘I want to get more involved in the throw game.’ Yep, look at it, it's out there, and it's factual. ‘I want to be a better pass protector.’ Yep, look at it, it's out there and it's factual. ‘I want to be better in between the tackles.’ Same thing. Then he has the ability to go out and make those big time plays consistently, week in and week out, so he's a tremendous, tremendous young man. For a lot of reasons, that's why I think he's the best player in the country and that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

QUESTION: Gary, after the game you talked about the pass defense and you mentioned the rush, the coverage, et cetera. After you looked at the tape, can you expand on what you saw? Be I know on their three touchdown drives it's not like you were silting in coverage, under sending guys, Iowa you have to give them credit for just finding your guys?

ANDERSEN: Give them absolutely a lot of credit and give credit where credit is due, I thought the quarterback got the ball out. He saw the matchups in press coverage and got the ball out there, they did a nice job of blocking from the running backs all the way through the offensive line and, I said it all week, the offensive line are some very talented young men. And we take that back and look at it in our kids' shoes and we look at it, we need to win some one on one battles, and we need to win some one on one battles up front. There is no, you know, magic call that's going to guarantee you're going to have a free hitter to go sack the quarterback, Coach (Dave) Aranda doesn't have golden tickets he can pull out of his pocket it and say, "We got a sack right now!" You've gotta go earn your way to it. So it's the responsibilities of the coaches to get ourselves in a position to succeed and responsibility of the young men to step up and make plays when they have to. That was the problem, it was us as a whole. As we sat back and looked at it we need to coach them better in certain spots, we had a couple situations where our communication was not good enough. And, anytime that happens, I look right back at us as coaches first and myself ultimately for a communication that may lack of something or something I think that should have happened or should've happened easily and it didn't happen on the field.

And you know, we'll address it with the kids and look at them and address it ourselves as coaches to try to help them, but execution by Iowa, yes, like I said, a couple of fade balls and Darius (Hillary) is right here and it's over his fingertips by 6 inches, that's football, that's a great play by them. The last touchdown, the wide open crosser running through that play, that play we did not execute well enough on that rep to be able to allow us to succeed and play defense at the highest level and fortunately our offense bailed us out in that setting. We'll fix it, the kids are excited to fix it, our coaches are excited to get the kids in the meeting room today and give us a chance to get better in that area and, at the end of the day, we gave up just enough to still allow us to win the game so that's the big point.

QUESTION: Last year the senior class you talked about how you'd remember them forever because of how accepting they were of you and your staff, what will you remember about this group?

ANDERSEN: Adversity is the first thing that comes to mind, when I say that on and off the field. A lot of things have gone on with this team that's a bit off the field for kids to go through some tough times. The leadership -- I've said, 15, 16 strong seniors as they roll through depending on how many of those young men decide to walk out there on this weekend -- their ability to lead by example is highly impressive. And the way that they continually push themselves to get better, when things didn't go the way that they thought they would in a couple of games or a quarter or a football game and I said last week or a couple weeks ago when I can look back at a football team and I learn something every single year from a football team that makes me a mechanic of a lot better coach because I've got a lot of learning to do but these kids thought me a lot about the off season, how they've handled working with a young crew of kids, the youngest team I've ever coached as a head football coach, youngest in numbers as far as 51 freshmen, watching them grow and develop and then just the experiences of that you have every single year, special times.

As hectic as that game is at Iowa and as crazy as it was, you never forget those moments. They'll stay with me forever. It was a crazy time. It's a great year, we have a lot of memories together, which is great, but I'm proud of these kids, they're all going to graduate, the senior class, they're going to move themselves forward in life, The goal is to help them get a world class degree and help them become men, hopefully help them walk out of here as men, as they were young men when we got them and put them in a position to play a high level of football, so they've accomplished those goals and hopefully they there is more out there for them.

QUESTION: Coach, you guys converted a number of huge third downs down the stretch Saturday. What's the key to improvement in that the area?

ANDERSEN: I think making plays. There were some great calls, there was some great individual efforts and those are the things that just it just takes to win the football games, close battle and those tight, highly contested football games come down to a couple plays here and a couple plays there and we always sit back on Sunday or Monday in this situation and say, boy, we made those plays or we didn't make enough plays to be able to win the game, and that sounds simplistic but that's what it is at this point. We were able to convert them. A lot of them were third downs. We've been working hard at the third-down scenarios and, the last few weeks, we've been making some key ones. And different players are making them, too, that's another thing that should be noted; it's not just one guy making all the third down conversions, it's a little bit of a mix, which is good to see.

I don't have an absolute answer other than young men are making plays when we need them and their team needs them the most, which is third down scenarios.

QUESTION: People are going to notice your guys wearing purple stickers. Talk about the epilepsy initiative and why you're doing it?

ANDERSEN: Coach Kill has had some serious issues. A couple of weeks ago we were in the Nebraska game he had asked all the head coaches to wear a pin, and I was more than glad to wear that to help anything you can in any way, shape or form. And he's battled through a lot, as we've all seen from afar. You have really no idea probably not probably -- what he has gone through, and it's important to them. And if something is important to him and his family, we'll definitely put on the stickers. It's a prideful moment for us to be able to reach out and help all people who are affected, but Coach Kill is a class guy, and I had the opportunity to meet him and spend time with him, so we're more than happy to represent his cause. And if we can make a difference, that's great.

QUESTION: Joel had a couple of great plays with the pass to Melvin off his back foot and the scramble run. Did one of those two plays stand out more to you about how far he's come to be able to make those plays, and what's it say about the journey from where he was late August, early September, to now making those plays for you?

ANDERSEN: It's one hell of a journey when you go back and start looking at that journey that that young man has been through. I'm so proud to see him get off that field with a smile on his face and really throughout the season as he's got back to normal and feels great about things, and he overcame it himself, which is the greatest thing. He had a lot of outside influences, and a lot of people chirping his way, and I'm sure a lot of information coming to him, that he valued some of it and probably some of it didn't value, but he took what he needed and he battled through it. And that's the toughness, the care factor that that kid has had, and all I've tried to do is be as supportive as I can. It's a unique situation when you sit back and support him. And Joel hasn't jumped up and down for joy for every decision I've made in Joel's football career, I understand that. And me and Joel have had that conversation many times, but the opportunity for him to be able to have the success he's had and make the plays that he's made has been fun to watch.

But if we just break down a couple of those from last week, when he there was two or three plays he made in there. The 7 route to Kenzel (Doe), I said after, he's moving around the pocket, his eyes are down the field, he's feeling the rush from different angles, he's moving back and forth and throws the ball where it needs to be and understands the coverage on the move, and that was the pocket moving around on him. And the last one he did the same thing. He kept his head down the field he slid sideways, he came back out. He came back outside of a rusher, and all of the sudden he knows it's third and 6 and he knows dang well that he's going to get himself to be able to get that first down or whatever it takes to get the first down.

He's really greatly improved, in my opinion, from where he was a year ago, and he's won a lot of football games and it's hard to put a price tag on a young man that's won a lot of football games. I think the offense is in a good spot because of what Joel does as a quarterback and what the offense does when Joel is the quarterback, and what Tanner can do and brings to the offense when Tanner is in there at the quarterback spot. And I don't see that going away anytime soon. I think our ability to use that this year and moving forward is going to be even more of a vicious weapon as we continue to grow as an offense.

QUESTION: Making sure guys are healthy, how do you handle Corey Clement in practice this week to make sure he can give you whatever he can give you on Saturday?

ANDERSEN: We need to be careful with Corey. Thought he would be better and ready to go than he truly was in this last game. If he gets hit just kind of banged, a little bit maybe on Wednesday or Thursday, depending on what we do with the pads on Tuesday and Wednesday, but he'll the problem with Corey is like most of the young men on this team, they want to practice. They want to get out there and they're going to sometimes say the right things which might not be the smart thing, but they're going to say the right thing to get out there. So the way that Mike (Moll) and his training staff monitor it, and the way that our coaches monitor it from top to bottom in position control, along with myself, is important, but Corey will be out there in a limited basis early and hopefully move forward as the week goes on.

QUESTION: Regarding the end of the game and the Axe, have you exchanged thoughts with Minnesota people, or is this from your standpoint and the school's standpoint?

ANDERSEN: To my knowledge I don't know that for sure. I have not talked to Coach Kill. I know it was going to be presented to the rest of the teams in the league, at least that we play with the trophies, and hopefully they would have kind of the same ideas that we have, or if they don't then that's OK they need to find a way to be able to protect the players and that was the whole deal behind it.

I'm sure that our people will communicate with Minnesota, much like they did with Nebraska when Nebraska was here. The Iowa one was pretty clean and simple and smooth. That plan was put in place basically just before the kickoff of the game and Iowa was in favor of it, at least from the marketing people, that they felt good with the it being presented basically at the end of the locker room, when you came in, whoever won the game got it, and from there you could take it back out. That's what happened, right? I didn't see it all, but at the end of the game the kids got it, and they were able to bring it back out and celebrate with the fans, with the trophy, much similar to what goes on. There is just more to this one, right? Hopefully we can get one team off and the other team can do what they’ve got to do, I get that. Maybe I'll take a swing if we're fortunate enough to win, if everybody is off the field, instead of trying to pull a 400 pound offensive lineman off another 400 pound offensive lineman. That's not a good spot for an old guy like me.

QUESTION: Gary, David Cobb, what impresses you about him?

ANDERSEN: He is a very physical runner, and you know in a league where there are some very, very good running backs, David Cobb is physical, he runs low to the ground. His pads are underneath him very well. He's a very viable option outside of the pocket in the throw game and the check down runs, but his toughness is a reflection -- week in and week out, when you think you got him for a couple, he usually gets three or four. It's much like the offense, the offense wants to stay on pace and keep themselves in a position to continually move down the field.

He is a big, big part of that offense and has been, and there are some other young men that come in and are very powerful and run the ball very well, but he's been he's gotten better as you watch him from last year to this year, to going through this year, he seems to be getting, I don't know if it's more comfortable, I don't know what it may be, but I know he's better as this year has gone than when we played against him a year ago, and he was a very good back a year ago. He's definitely a threat, and he's a premier back in our conference for sure.

QUESTION: Each week it seems we're asking about a different linebacker and what they're able to do. You mentioned Trotter at the beginning, last week and this week seemed to be his kind of game. What does he bring physically and mentally that really helps out the defense and makes him so good?

ANDERSEN: Marcus is incredibly smart -- and he studies the game just like he studies school, which he expects to get an A-plus -- in his ability to be able to have pre-snap awareness, and that's how he attacks school and the film work and study that he puts in. He takes great pride in that. This last week, he was very, very athletic in the ability to get to his assigned gap and be able to rock back if things didn't quite go our way on the defensive front, which happened probably too often on the defensive side, and he was able to rock back. And when I say that, fall back across the ball to where the ball was going and where it cuts back to, and to be able to be there and be able to make the play. He did that, I don't know, five or six times in that football game, so he's seeing things. He's a sure tackler, he plays with great emotion.

When things didn't go so well, he was another one that had no panicked look on his face, but he decided to take a role of leadership at that point and steady the troops and calm the rough waters, and he did it in those moments. And all of the sudden everybody is yelling and screaming and flipping and kickin' and screaming, you got some major issues on your hands, and at that point you got to a find a way to gather yourself and put a smile on your face and say this is a big time moment, that's why we play these games. They're a good football team; you don't do it right, you're going to pay, and that's how Marcus got himself in that moment of leadership.

I thought it was important. He's worked himself right into a great player, and he's a classic example of the hard working kid. I texted him on Sunday when I was watching the tape and I said, ‘Wow, what a great game. I don't know if we win the game if you don't have probably the best game you've ever played,’ and he texted me back and said, ‘Coach, thanks for giving me the opportunity to prove myself.’ Pretty amazing what a kid like that says and what that says for a kid when he has a great game, and what I think is the best game he's had since I've been here, for sure -- and all he is grateful for is the opportunity to be part of the team and part of the Badgers. It was pretty cool.

QUESTION: You mentioned Cobb, but Leidner led them in rushing, their quarterback, against Nebraska, and what sort of problems might he present, and I'm curious, I'm assuming that you think having your defense see McEvoy in practice will help you in preparation?

ANDERSEN: Seeing Tanner will definitely prep in the zone read. They do such a good job of the read zone with the running back and the quarterback. The quarterback is, as I've talked about with Tanner, doing a good job of disguising and putting the ball right there in the running back's belly, and he holds it there as long as he can and eats up as much ground towards the line of scrimmage before he pulls that ball or gives that ball, which puts the defensive end -- or however you want to play that edge of the defense -- in a very compromised position.

Is he going to play the cutback of the running back diving down to the B-gap or is he going to play the quarterback, or is he going to try to play them both? And ultimately somebody has to play them both, whether it's the linebacker, whether it's the defensive end, so that exchange -- the longer it's compromised in the mind of the defensive end or the linebacker, if he's compromised in his mind while ‘I'm reading this, I'm shuffling down inside,’ the edges of the defense become more and more open, and his ability to pull that ball late, and get it out there and have the ability to gain an angle is impressive.

He does a nice job of gaining angles and turning up the field, so that's a big part of his game. The fly sweep is another big part of their run game, which causes you to be compromised again in the read zone scenarios. They've added that to their game from a year ago. I think the coaches have done a nice job of adjusting the scheme in a very positive way, to have more of the quarterback run involved. There's many, many times when it's almost triple option football.


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