Oct. 28, 2013
• Andersen News Conference
MADISON, Wis. -- 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 the Heartland Trophy with Iowa.
Video of Andersen's media session can be found above, and a complete transcript of his remarks is below.
ANDERSEN: Great to get back after the bye week. It was a very productive week, I believe, for the kids from the standpoint of preparing for the next opponent, also it was good for us to get out get some recruiting done and down those lines.
So it was a productive week again. Iowa is a very stiff challenge, two very similar identities (to Wisconsin) of what they want to get done on the offensive side of the football. Obviously both want to run the ball. Play action is a big part of the throw game on both sides. Defenses are both physical and very salty kids on both sides of the game of football.
Interesting to watch. I've done nothing but gained respect … you watch programs from afar for many, many years and Iowa is a program that's been well established for a long, long time. But the respect has grown for me just watching them, how they play how they compete and are coached and how they like to play football, and it's a great opportunity for us to go into another hectic environment. I understand it's a very difficult place to play. It's very loud. Great fans, which is what the Big Ten's all about, so our kids are looking forward to the opportunity. But we've got a lot of preparation to do between now and then to get ready to play a quality opponent that's physical just like we like to think of ourselves the same way.
QUESTION: Gary, how different is it preparing for Iowa's physical running game after all the spread teams you've seen this year?
ANDERSEN: It is different. We had a little bit of advantage playing against ourselves. So we have it on tape.
That's college football these days. You gotta get ready to defend a lot of things. Defensively this week it's the opportunity to line up against a very good offensive line and match strength on strength a little bit if you will.
So having the extra week is good for weeks that build up like this. Our kids have done a good job so far.
QUESTION: What's your experience with trophy games? Do you think it's important?
ANDERSEN: I absolutely do. The experience for me we fought like crazy against BYU and Utah State for the Old Wagon Wheel. It was part of it. The Beehive Boot was something that Utah and BYU competed for when I was at Utah and, as time went on, we were fortunate enough at Utah State get in the mix with the Beehive Boot and have it in our possession for a couple of years. It means a lot to the kids.
It's a big part of college football. It's something that has a little bit more of an edge to the game for the players and for the fans and also for the coaches. So it's fun to be involved in those games.
QUESTION: You talked about Melvin (Gordon) a lot. When did you know he could be this special and what specifically do you think he's done to put himself above a lot of players in college football? And coaching, and it's fun to be involved in those games.
ANDERSEN: Well, Melvin's productivity is off the charts, which we all know, but past that, his ability to be unselfish and stay in the moment, prepare each week, be just Steady Eddie -- which we challenge the team week in and week out to do -- is incredible for Melvin, and it's impressive the way he handles the success that he’s had.
I've never heard Melvin say ‘It's about me,’ or ‘I'm doing this.’ With Melvin it's about his offensive line and tight ends and fullback and quarterback involved, gives James (White) just as much credit as (himself), in fact more credit so far.
How good is Melvin? When did I think Melvin was a good player? When I watched film last year, if you watched him in the championship game a year ago, you saw a kid with incredible talent that did some special things and we saw glimpses of it in spring ball. He obviously had the injury in spring and was out for some of it but he continues to amaze me week in and week out. The last thing I would say is the way he comes out and practices, you watch how the running backs all practice. It's incredible. A lot of that credit goes to Coach (Thomas) Hammock and the way he pushes those kids, but the kids buy into the hard coaching and the demands he puts on them because they know it produces on the field if they listen and they have the talent.
QUESTION: Iowa’s two running backs, Bullock and Weisman, aren’t necessarily explosive guys, but how would you characterize their games? They both averaged 5 yards per carry at Ohio State, so even though they lost that game, they looked like they were pretty productive.
ANDERSEN: They're tough, physical backs and they like contact. It's one of the things you see when you watch them, when they get to the next level, for the defender it's not just going to be ‘OK, it's time for you to tackle me,’ you have to own the right and you’re going to be either deserving of making a tackle or deserving of not making a tackle because they're going to force you to make a play, whether it's the open field or whether it's in close quarters with punishing runs. They consistently have done that. I think they sink their pads well, they’re productive. The best way to sum them up, they're those running backs you look at -- and I think our guys are like that, too -- when you think they get four or five yards sometimes you hop up and they usually get seven or eight or nine. You think they get one or two and it seems like they get three or four. That's exactly what Iowa's backs have done and they have a tremendous supporting cast also with the tight ends, and I know the quarterback’s highly involved in the check game just as Joel (Stave) is for us, and the offensive line is very powerful. Big kids that know where they're going.
QUESTION: Injury update, do you expect (Chris) Borland to be able to practice and play this week or what's his status?
ANDERSEN: We'll see when we get out there. I expect him to play, yes. Practice, we’ll be careful. We'll continually watch him and monitor him as it goes. Trainers have done a great job as far as getting him to this point and Chris has done a great job. Obviously it's not an injury that's foreign to him. He's been through this before. A couple of times with where he sits and I think he'll get back as soon as he can, but I'm very optimistic that he'll play in the game.
QUESTION: Did you get a chance to watch college football this week and if so who impressed you.
ANDERSEN: Probably more than my wife wanted me to. The list of honey-dos was pretty big on Saturday but I got through most of them before the games started. I found myself just really watching the Big Ten games and I watched the Northwestern-Iowa game basically from start to end, and it was a very good game, which you all know. I watched the Ohio State game, watched most of that game, they were impressive, obviously for what the way they played. No one else really jumps at me to say they were impressive. I just wanted to sit back and be a fan for a day and enjoyed it. So it was good. Tailgated a little bit in my kitchen by myself had a good tailgate party. It was fun. Me and the dogs hung out. It was a good day.
QUESTION: Do you find yourself getting into coach mode while watching the game?
ANDERSEN: No. Absolutely not. I'm not there to make decisions or anything like that, just kind of be a fan. I do say that you get those moments where it's crunch time and you kind of look back and watch other coaches make decisions, there's always room to learn and there's decisions that are made that can possibly help you down the road. But I don't study it as I'm looking at this to hopefully make me a better coach necessarily. But sometimes those opportunities present themselves as you go through games.
QUESTION: With Iowa, it’s been a while since Wisconsin’s come along. What's it like to maybe create or reignite this regional rivalry going forward?
ANDERSEN: I think our kids are excited about the opportunity. I know we are. The past, just listening to them going into the stadium, listening to Coach (Barry) Alvarez talk about past games he had when he was obviously the head coach and the battles that they had in the past with Iowa. So it goes way back and a lot of our kids have played against Iowa. It's been a couple of years since they have, but it's gone back and forth and been very physical and I expect nothing different. Our kids have great respect for Iowa. I'm sure Iowa's in the same boat and they know that they're going to have to put their best foot forward to have a chance to win on both sides.
QUESTION: Iowa has had a long tradition of solid linebacking. Morris, Kirksey and Kitchens, what impressed you about them?
ANDERSEN: Any good defense, any good linebacker starts up front. I'm impressed with the way the front line plays. If we single out the linebackers and talk about them, they're in command of the defense, they do a nice job of directing traffic and you can see that on tape. Their knowledge of the game is very good. That means they're coached good and that means they're taking the coaching and they're very talented athletes. They’re sudden tacklers, when they have the opportunity to be involved in plays, they’re there. Rarely see them get out athleted, you rarely see them miss a tackle when they’re in positions when they have a great opportunity to do it.
Very solid as far as their zone drops go, within their defense. So they're stout, tough linebackers who carry themselves with the presence of liking football, and they like physical football, and they're smart. They make very good decisions.
QUESTION: They’ve got a guy that leads the nation in punt returns and you guys have done a good job in coverage. I think part of it is the rugby kick for (Drew) Meyer. Is that your idea or Jeff Genyk's?
ANDERSEN: Jeff (Genyk) likes it as a mixer. It’s a great opportunity to keep people on their toes. Give them one more thing to practice. It is a good weapon. But Jeff takes care of that. They've been very good in their punt return game, obviously the numbers would speak for that, and I know Coach (Kirk Ferentz) said a few weeks ago they were going to just go safe mode. I hope they continue to do that down the road, but they've got some gifted kids back there.
QUESTION: With Borland's injury and this five-game stretch, this second bye come at a really opportune time for you guys, and also do you like having that second week to prepare for one opponent?
ANDERSEN: As far as the timing of the bye, you always are going to take it and make the best of it. Just exactly like a schedule, when the schedule comes out the first of the year, it is what it is and you take the schedule and make the best of it.
But this one with Chris, specifically looking in that area, he would not have played last Saturday. So came at a great time for Chris because I know how much it means to him and how much it means for us to have him on the field. But if you just single out Chris, missing a Big Ten game is big for Chris and he basically missed the Illinois game already. He doesn't want that to happen. Neither do we.
For him, as a person, and as a kid, it's great to have the bye when it came in. For our football team, we took advantage of it, tried to get our legs back underneath us much as possible. Moving forward, as far as two byes, it doesn't really bother me. It’s something I’m used to. We've had it for a number of years. The guys that have been with me for years, I don't remember the last time we had just one bye, but the last couple of years we've had a couple and some have come at the beginning and some come way late in the year and the rest of them have been in the middle. So it's okay. It is what it is. Can't worry about that stuff when the schedule comes out. You just deal with them and move onward.
QUESTION: Ethan Armstrong, has he been a good fitness defense outside, do you think?
ANDERSEN: Yes, for a lot of reasons. The way he handles himself day in, day out. His ability in a week like this to potentially walk in and have to play some inside linebacker if Chris was unable to play, he's very versatile. He's the first kid that walked up to me I think it was last week, Tuesday, came up and said, ‘Coach do you think I need to keep an eye on the inside backer stuff this week just to be careful in case Chris isn't able to play?’ So he's always thinking ahead. But he's a very good fit. I think he's had a good year. It's been good for him. Talked to him today. He said he felt fresh. He's felt as good as he's felt all year long, which is a credit to him taking care of his body, the trainers and Evan Simon and the strength coaches doing a great job getting him moving in the right direction. Ethan's a great kid. I've said that many times, great football player. Glad he's on our team.
QUESTION: The first three road games were obviously at night. This one’s in the morning. What are some of the different challenges, or do you think advantages, of starting in the morning as opposed to night on the road?
ANDERSEN: The advantages are simple and clean. For coaches, you don't have to go through 10 or 11 hours of misery as you sit there and watch everybody else play. You get to wake up and go play, which is nice. Our hotel, from what I understand, is 45 minutes away from the stadium. So we're going to get up early and play. It's an 11 o’clock kick. This is an early-rising team. We were up this morning and had early morning meetings with the kids, so I don't think that will be a factor. But waking up, eating breakfast, going for our team walk and then coming back and getting on a bus, that's always something you gotta think about. We'll try to have a little information for them that they can watch as they move on down the road for 45 or 50 minutes. But I'm glad the kickoff is at 11. I think it will be good for our kids.
QUESTION: What can you do or have you done to kind of shore up the back end and get more consistency back there?
ANDERSEN: A mixture of some different styles of zones. Nothing drastic changed schematically. But the grasp of the difficult situations that we've got into a couple of times that are just by scheme. And that's going to happen. Some zone coverages are harder than other zone coverages when you're in certain positions with numbers of receivers with the route structure that’s coming at you. We tried to give them the most challenging routes that we possibly can and make sure they understand that.
The other thing that's important when you’re dealing with young kids is that you're not going to make every play back there. The other team has good players, too. They have good coaches, too, and they draw things up that work very well and the kids execute them. When you do give up a play, you gotta move on to the next play and be prepared.
All those kind of encompassing (ideas) and I've said it before, we have two very good coaches coaching in the back end and Coach Strick (Ben Strickland) and Coach (Bill) Busch are doing a good job. We have players that are eager and excited and the care factor is high and we know it's a little bit of an issue for us and we need to continue to work and it all starts with the coaches and filters down to the kids. I'm excited to see them get out and play as get a few more practices underneath our belt.
QUESTION: Could you describe to us what a Beehive Boot is and was the Beehive Boot game bigger or the same as the Wagon Wheel?
ANDERSEN: Well it depends on who you're talking to. If you're talking to Utah State, they're both huge. The Beehive Boot is… it's a boot. It’s a big boot in a glass cover, and you play for it and the winner of the state gets it. So whoever wins the best, whatever best record is between the three schools, has it. And it was really important for us at Utah State because that boot had not been in Logan for a long time before we were able to get it back and we took a lot of pride in that.
The Old Wagon Wheel, it's a big old wagon wheel. I don't know all the ins and outs of it but it's big and it’s heavy. You roll it in and out of the stadium when you bring it in there. It was for the BYU-Utah State game, exclusively. I don't know if it's true, but our equipment guy, after we beat BYU a few years ago, fortunate enough to get that done, we had to go down and get it. It had been a long time. I don't know if BYU, if Coach (Tom) Holmoe, could find it – he’s the AD there -- but they found it in the back room and we gladly transported that thing back to Logan with a lot of pride.
QUESTION: In this day and age with all the conference championship games, with all the carrots that come at the end of the season, do the rivalries mean as much to players, do you believe?
ANDERSEN: I do. I think it means a lot. And you sit there and you look at that trophy, it's either a trophy case with a trophy in it or it’s a trophy case that's empty. And you either hope to hold onto it or you’re hoping to get it back.
So it does. It does matter to kids and it's something, these kids talked about it all last week, and they understand it and it does give a little bit of an extra edge. And I think it's important for the fans. It's college football. That's why college football is so special because it has the extra added rivalries and the team that doesn't play so well gets into some of these games at some point and plays very well because maybe they have a little extra edge because they're fighting for something different.