Badgers Finally Hit Game Week

Badgers Finally Hit Game Week

For the first time in nine months, Wisconsin football is in game week, as the 14th-ranked Badgers take on No.13 LSU in the Advocare Kickoff Classic in Houston Saturday. UW coach Gary Andersen addressed the media Monday.

Opening Statement

Gary Andersen: It's great to get to game week. Excited about the opportunity to move forward and to again, a game week, I think our kids are ready to go.

Met with them this morning. We're completely on game week schedule. Even though school's not in this week, we're treating it absolutely no different. So we met with them this morning for what would be a normal Tuesday, trying to be one day ahead, which we should be moving through camp. Get them out there in practice and prepare as we move through the week.

So I'm sure you've got a bunch of questions. I'll open it up for that. Again, we're excited to take the next step and get ready to play LSU. Great venue, great opportunity for the university and all these kids in the program.

QUESTION: Gary, looking at the tape of LSU, their defensive coordinator talks about their two ends being an outstanding tandem. What sort of problems might they present, or what do you have to be aware of for your tackles, Tyler and Rob?

ANDERSEN: They're tremendous pass rushers. They're very gifted athletically, and they're also very powerful. They've shown that on tape, so you have to you've got to be on guard. You've got to make sure the offense hopefully can help them a little bit as far as help our tackles a little bit, keeping people off base as far as what we're doing. Third and long scenarios, you're not always going to throw the ball every snap and so on and so forth.

But Tyler (Marz) and Rob (Havenstein) will be fine. They're two good players. I think we have two good tackles. The third and fourth guy that rotate in there with them are pretty good football players too. They've got some guys that can get after it and rush the passer, and have proven that they've done that for a long time.

QUESTION: I'll get it out of the way. The obligatory quarterback question. Report is you guys decided to go with Tanner (McEvoy). Is that the case? Decision to make?

ANDERSEN: Well, it depends on if you want to follow a fake Twitter account of Tanner's, I suppose. People want to believe whatever they want to believe. Just another social media debacle, in my opinion.

It's not Tanner's Twitter, from a lot of people that phone calls and text messages I got, it's a fake Twitter account. He didn't say he was starting, but neither did the tweet of whoever did it.

But at the end of the day, we're right where we were. We've got two quarterbacks that I think are going to help this football team throughout the year, and whoever takes the first snap doesn't necessarily say he's going to be the guy for the whole season. We've got two kids who want to compete and will continue to compete. That's where we're going to stay with it.

You're going to hear the same thing from the coordinators. You're going to hear the same thing from the quarterbacks. That's where we sit.

QUESTION: Gary, did you see enough in camp from Rafael (Gaglianone), whatever pressure situations you guys put him in, that you're comfortable he'll respond appropriately on game day?

ANDERSEN: Yeah, I believe so. I think Andrew (Endicott) can walk in there. We're going to take Jack (Russell) with us on the trip, too. Rafael will hop in there, and he'll have an opportunity to kick a field goal or an extra point or whatever comes his way throughout this game. We'll see how he reacts.

But I would say I completely agree with your question that he acted very positively when we put him in those settings in practice. Tried to make it be as competitive, much game like situation as possible, but until he jogs out there and does it in a real game, no one will really know how he's going to react. That goes along with a lot of other young kids.

QUESTION: Gary, health was a big discussion topic for camp. Are your two deep guys, are they all ready to go? Any questions with regards to their health?

ANDERSEN: I feel real good where we are. As far as this morning, the reports came back, and I'm glad we took the precautions that we did as we got through about the middle of camp. I wouldn't say we backed off by any stretch of the imagination, but we were being as smart as we could.

I think the trainers and Mike (Moll) and his staff and Evan (Simon) and his strength staff did a tremendous job of getting these kids back. Hopefully, their legs are coming back, but we should be in about as good a shape as you can hope to be walking into the first game after training camp.

QUESTION: Gary, did you make your quarterback decision right after that Monday that scrimmage you had last Monday, or thereabouts?

ANDERSEN: Within the first of last week, I suppose. Not necessarily Monday, but Tuesday, Wednesday of last week, we kind of shifted gears a little bit.

I think it's important to make sure the kids understand and the kids, I'm talking about the position group that's involved understand exactly where they sit and the direction that we're moving forward as a staff. Once that took place, Coach (Andy) Ludwig handled that.

Like I said many times, I don't get involved in that. I don't deem that as my job just because it's the quarterback position. It wasn't an announcement to the team, nothing like that. But it was Tuesday, Wednesday probably last week.

QUESTION: The other thing, do you how do you view this game? I mean, in terms of what you can gain or lose in a playing a game like this at this particular time of the season?

ANDERSEN: I think it's a great time to play this game. What we can gain from the non football side, as far as playing the game, it helps us in an area we want to recruit in. It helps us play an SEC opponent. It's the first game of the year. It's on national television. It's going to be it's a primetime game. So all that stuff is great for the University of Wisconsin. All that stuff is great for the football program.

On the field, I think we get a real good idea of how we stack up against one of the best programs in the country year in and year out. That's exactly where LSU sits, and the respect we have for them is very, very high.

You'll see a bunch of young kids competing, and we'll have a lot better idea of where we sit in the big picture, as far as not just the Big Ten, but in college football in general on the biggest stage.

QUESTION: Gary, is it a sign of the times that a lot of true freshmen are playing now, or is it just an anomaly? You see a lot of kids jumping early to the NFL when the opportunity comes up. Is this part of that process?

ANDERSEN: You know, I don't know. I would not think that this is typical for us. This is abnormal for what I'm used to, as far as this number of kids playing. We'll have probably 11 of them that will have a very good opportunity getting into the first game, about 14 of them that will travel with us, and those aren't all true freshmen, but they're freshmen. They've been here a year at most. So that's a large number to me.

I do believe you're going to continually see a transition of more freshmen playing because of the summertime. I think the summertime really helps those kids be around their coaches, understand the scheme. It helps them adjust much quicker, and they're in a lot better state to move forward through training camp than they would be if they just went out for their first practice, first position meeting and all that stuff.

And the early graduates have an upper hand too. Those kids, I don't think you can look at them as real true freshmen anymore. They've been through a winter conditioning, they've been through a spring football, and they've been through a summer conditioning. So, yes, they haven't played games, but they've gone through the rest of the cycle, which is a huge advantage.

QUESTION: Gary, I know you used they started camp a little bit different this year because you guys are so young. Do you have to handle this week at all differently than you normally would? Because you used the word youthful so much.

ANDERSEN: No, we're right on task right now.

The way we prepare won't change at all. We've put those kids throughout camp in every situation, every scenario. They've been through a normal Monday practice, a normal Tuesday, a normal Wednesday, a normal Thursday. We've gone through a mock game. We've walked them through the Friday scenarios as far as how we move through our workday on Friday.

When they're getting on that airplane and going, they should be prepared. Have they lived it exactly? No, but they understand what's expected. There's always some growing pains as you move through there, but we'll be in normal game operating mode this week except we are a day ahead. What would have been a Monday will really be a Tuesday for us today.

QUESTION: Gary, you've got six wide receivers listed on the depth. Are those the six who are going? Or do you know if you're taking more than six down to Houston. Chris (Beatty) was a little bit unsure, when we talked to him last, how many you guys would take on the trip.

ANDERSEN: We'll take more than six. We'll take probably eight receivers with us. The main six are they're the six that are going to go out and fulfill those two deep scenarios that we have. How much playing time goes to the younger kids is going to really see we'll see how they react in the moment, much like any position.

Our numbers are much better there, as far as a group, than it was a year ago.

QUESTION: Earlier, you said one of the things you have to gain when you go down to LSU is it helps you to play an SEC opponent. Why is it important to play an SEC opponent?

ANDERSEN: I wouldn't say just the SEC. I'm sure I did say the SEC, but it's another great conference where typically you're going to see them in a bowl game. That's where you're going to be able to play an SEC team. Now to be able to have them in the regular conference but I would say that about any of the major conferences. For us to be able to cross over once a year as a possibility is a good thing.

Some people think I'm absolutely crazy when I say that, but I like it as long as it's the first game of the year and you have an opportunity to go play a team outside of your conference. It's an opportunity for again, for the university, for the kids in the program, and to really get an idea of where you sit, kind of the lay of the land outside of the Big Ten Conference.

QUESTION: Gary, when you were at Utah State three straight years, you took your team to some hostile environments and had some challenges. What is your message any different for this team? Granted, I know it's a neutral site and that type of thing, but do you have the same message to this team, or is it different?

ANDERSEN: No, it would be the same message that we always walk into. First game, I'm such a believer in controlling the emotions, and I say that from every coach to trainer to player to myself. It's walking into so much is built up on that first game, and it's been since January 1st, I guess, since we've played a game obviously. So a lot of these young men, it's their first game that they've played whether they've been in this program for one year, two years, three years, four years.

Your team has to be able to take the field, be calm, be collected, be excited, which you know they're going to be the first game. You've got to handle your emotions. Whenever we go on the road in a hostile environment, the key is to do what we do. Don't let other people affect you. Don't listen to all everything that's going outside.

Just like practice, listening to the music, hang out, relax, do your job, and have some fun playing the game you love to play.

But prepare. It is a business trip, and how we move ourselves through the week is going to be very interesting as we prepare for a business trip.

QUESTION: LSU has their own quarterback competition going on. I don't know how much you know about their freshmen, but how much has it affected maybe your game preparation? Do you know if you need to game plan for kind of two different offenses based on who's in there?

ANDERSEN: Both very athletic. No, it has not changed versus one quarterback or the other. One thing you can do in Game 1, new quarterback, you hear all the information that's coming out as far as some spread stuff and how much are they doing? You can chase a lot of ghosts if you allow yourself to.

You've got to be careful to understand to put in your base defense, play it well, which the base defense on paper should be able to react to any scheme and be able to handle any scheme assuming the players get what they're supposed to get and can tackle and all that stuff.

But has not changed drastically for either of the quarterbacks that we're planning on playing against.

QUESTION: Gary, do you know Les Miles? Have you run into him at meetings? Do you know anything about him? What's your relationship with him?

ANDERSEN: Tremendous respect. Don't know him that well. Met him this year during recruiting in a hotel lobby for about five minutes. I would say what I know best about Coach Miles other than seeing his teams play, and the respect I have for him is Corey Raymond was my cornerbacks coach at Utah State. Corey left us and went to LSU and has been there for a long period of time.

Corey has tremendous things to say about Coach Miles, which in the end means a lot to me about the type of guy he must be. Corey is a quality guy and has been there for a long time and loves working for Coach Miles.

QUESTION: In recent years, this program has struggled to beat nonconference teams from the Power conferences. Is that something that's on players' minds, coaches' minds, with this opportunity?

ANDERSEN: I would hope not. I hope we would look at this game and understand that exactly what I said it is. It's a big stage. It's a tremendous environment. It's a great opportunity. Doesn't matter the conference we're playing, the team that we're playing. We know the quality of opponent. All's you got to do is flip on the tape, and you'll get it. They're very well coached. They play the game hard. Their fundamentals and techniques are very, very sound, and they adjust well on game day.

It shouldn't matter who we're playing, but we know, if you're able to get a victory against LSU, you're clearly getting a victory against one of the best teams in college football year in and year out.

QUESTION: I'm guessing with all despite all of the discussion about the quarterback situation the last couple weeks, that Wisconsin has a reputation as a very successful rushing team, and I'm guessing that's not going to change, especially with those two guys you got back. Is this still a run first? I mean, you still want to establish the run no matter who's under center?

ANDERSEN: Absolutely. When you have Corey (Clement) and Melvin (Gordon) back there, and Derek (Watt) is highly involved as a fullback, and you can't underestimate what he brings to the table. You've got a returning offensive line. We feel good about our tight ends. That's going to be a big question mark with our run game, how well is Austin (Traylor), Sam (Arneson), and (Troy) Fumagalli going to block for us? That's going to be a big question mark.

We want to run the ball first. We want to take some shots with our play action. Our goal is to obviously be a physical, powerful football team that gets in the fourth quarter and ultimately tries to wear people down and ground and pound it. So that will never change.

But as I spoke early, and we said it all off season, there's some things that we want to do better. We want to throw the ball better. Again, that's not just the quarterback. That's every person that's involved in the offense that's out there on that particular snap, and we want to be able to run the ball to the edges of the or the defenses, excuse me. With a better success rate as far as yards per carry.

QUESTION: You’ve been around college football as a player or a coach for the last 30 some odd years. The next three years you're opening against LSU, Houston, 'Bama down in Dallas, up in Green Bay against LSU again. Does it ever surprise you how big college football has gotten with all the big games so early in the season?

ANDERSEN: Yeah, it's amazing how big and how powerful this game is. It's a tremendous game, which we all know. We're all blessed and lucky to be part of it and be in the positions that we're in, and we'll cherish those moments just to be on this stage, and for those kids to be able to be involved in this game this early in the year, they'll never forget it. Great opportunity for them.

But this is college football is something pretty special. I think we'd all agree.

QUESTION: Curious, I think Les has a reputation for maybe pulling off some exotic plays, fakes on special teams and that. How much have you seen of that on tape that you guys have studied? How prepared do you have to be for anything in that game?

ANDERSEN: Every fake that we can possibly find on YouTube or through film study or wherever again, I go back we're pulling up stuff from six, seven, 10 years ago. I don't know, maybe we're trying to outthink ourselves. Usually the fake that you really try to prepare for is probably the last one that they would ever use. But we are on guard, definitely.

I would hope that they're on guard. We kind of pride ourselves on being a little edgy in those situations and potentially have some fake scenarios that we could run, and we'll run them in big time moments.

I think that's one of the differences in these two teams. A lot of teams will run fakes, but last year and LSU's tradition and ourselves last year, together for the first time, I think we've shown we'll run a fake in a critical situation, which puts you even more on guard.

QUESTION: Gary, do your offensive linemen have to be aware at all depending on who the quarterback is, is there anything they have to do technically different? Is there any awareness they need to have, knowing that one may be more inclined to run versus the other?

ANDERSEN: No, not at all. The offense is built around the offense, not built around the quarterback. So there's no nothing changes at all regardless of who's taking the snaps.

QUESTION: Gary, as you go into the season, do you have any reservations at all about the fact that Tanner hasn't played in a Division I game yet? Can you share your assessment of how his passing ability has grown and what he showed in that area during fall camp?

ANDERSEN: I think last year Tanner came in here as a young quarterback, and he played JC ball and was continuing to grow and broke his hand.

The one thing I would say is he has played in big time games. He's been a starting free safety, which is the quarterback of our defense. He has a lot of alignment issues, very technical back there. There's a ton of communication that has to take place.

So he's been in that moment. He's prepared to play in Big Ten games. He's prepared to play in a Bowl game, which is great for him. I think he obviously, we feel like he's throwing the ball much better to even be in the QB race. He would have had to be solid and consistent throwing the football.

But the biggest thing for Tanner is the growth within the offense. This is an offense where there's a lot of checks and a lot of verbiage, and it's a pro-style offense that a smart kid has to get back there to understand the offense and get it moving in the right direction. To be in the one and two and be fighting it out for as long as they've been fighting it out, Joel (Stave) and Tanner are both obviously very capable, or Andy (Ludwig) wouldn't be using reps up on them.

QUESTION: Gary, you talked at various times about more big plays on offense, either down the field or on the edges with the running backs. Also, better third down percentage. That's a lot to get done. Are you better equipped to get all that done this year, do you think?

ANDERSEN: I would hope so. When we talk third downs, our ability to it shifts when you get to like four plus, right? When you have to get back there and throw that ball and you've got to be able to protect, I would hope that the scheme a year further along will help. I would hope that an experienced offensive line coming back with working on their pass protections and all the things that they prepare for, from a technique standpoint to a scheme standpoint, would help.

So we have identified those issues and the scenarios that we expect us to be better as a staff and the kids to be better at. So I believe we are better equipped, but time will obviously tell.

QUESTION: Gary, what's it like for you knowing that T.J. and sorry. T.J. and Derek are going to go see their older brother in Houston?

ANDERSEN: It's an exciting time. I think J.J. (Watt) is just as excited as the kids are to go down there and have those three together. Hopefully, J.J. has a little time to get in front of the team for a minute, but just like the rest of our kids, a couple hours every day blocked out to be with their families down there. They'll have a good little family reunion.

He's playing a game Thursday, is that correct? I think they play while they're there. So it will be it's pretty special to be in that setting for that family and well deserved, great family, as you all know, and tremendous athletes.

QUESTION: Gary, you touched on it a little bit earlier. What's your vision for recruiting Texas? How important is that area for you in moving forward with this program?

ANDERSEN: You come in your first year, and you get in your areas. You establish what you believe is the right spots to be, and we were not heavily involved in Texas the first year. We just very quickly ran out of time. Now we are.

We've pulled Coach (Bill) Busch from the West Coast basically and put him into Texas and Florida. He's proven to be a very solid recruiter through the years. That's the reason why we put Bill in Texas. So Texas is definitely a place where we need to go.

I think we've had some a little bit of success there. We'll see how that all moving forward. It's great football. High school football is very important. The kids play at a high level. They go through a lot they go through some spring balls. There's a lot of reasons to recruit Texas, not just because they have tremendous athletes, but the kids understand the important of the game.

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