Wisconsin football coach Gary Andersen spoke with the media Tuesday morning on the Big Ten’s first weekly coaches teleconference of the year, ahead of the Badgers’ season opener against LSU.
Andersen discussed, the pros and cons of playing at a neutral site, the emergence of Wisconsin’s wide receivers and expectations for running back Melvin Gordon.
Here is the full transcript of Andersen’s conference call.
Andersen: Excited to get things going. Obviously a quality opponent in LSU. It’s a great opportunity for the University of Wisconsin and every kid in our program to be on the national spotlight. Start the game off. LSU is a tremendous team, 45 games since they lost a nonconference game and all the stuff that’s with it. There’s a lot to play for. It’s a tremendous opportunity for our kids. We’re looking forward to getting on the plane but a couple practices to go before that takes place.
Question: What are the pros and cons of playing neutral site games?
Andersen: The pros, from a recruiting standpoint, it definitely helps us. It gets us on the national stage. We’re playing an SEC team and, quite frankly, we’re playing traditionally over the last few years, one of the best teams in the country. Kids like that when they’re recruited. We get to find out exactly where we sit early in the season. I think that’s a positive for us. Especially as youthful as we are, we’ll be able to get a real idea of how we match up against a good physical football team. And that will be good for us this year. I’m sure it will be the same next year with Alabama and then again it’ll be the same with LSU the third year. Those are some positives. It’s a geat experience for the kids. They get to go into an NFL stadium and be able to play. That’s something that’s memories that should last a lifetime for them.
I think the cons are kind of the same a little bit when you’re talking about that you’re playing a quality opponent first game of the year and there’s so many what ifs in the first game. What’s your team like? How’s your team going to go out and handle themselves? Some may say that’s not a great time to have the game, but if you’re going to play a game like this in the environment of college football today, the first game of the year is definitely the one to do it in my opinion.
Q: How does preparing for a neutral-site game compare to preparing for a bowl game?
Andersen: It’s quite a bit different. As you go through a bowl game, there’s a high emphasis on your opponent. But there’s also a high emphasis on the young kids, trying to get yourself ahead of the game for the next season. None of that’s taking place at this time of year. It’s obviously preparing for that opponent. You don’t have as many practices. You’re getting your team together. You’re getting your depth charts. You’re understanding where you’re sitting.
We shift into game mode after our second scrimmage, which was a little bit over a week ago now. It’s quite a different feel to me. But I do think the kids should walk out of there with a special experience. They’ve been asked to play in a big-time environment on a national stage in game one. I want to make it a special expereicne for our kids.
Q: Is it any easier to prepare for LSU because the Tigers play more of a Big Ten style?
Andersen: Off of watching LSU tape, there’s nothing really easy about preparing for them. But if we just talk scheme-wise, there are some similarities to what we like to do and what they like to do. They want to run the football. They want to take shots down the field. They want to give their playmakers an opportunity to be involved highly in the gameplan.
From an offensive standpoint on both sides, I think it should help. It helps in practice. You’re not playing a spread team that’s running around at the pace or whatever. It does help your development I think as you go through practice. Some similarities in your crossover early in camp. There’s so much that goes into that. But I think we’re in a good spot and we’ll continue to prepare.
Q: How is the receiving corps looked so far and has anyone stood out?
Andersen: I really like what Kenzel has done from a leadership standpoint. Kenzel Doe has had a very good camp from a football standpoint and then leadership has been great for these young receivers. So, he would be one.
George Rushing has been very solid for a freshman. Picked up on the scheme. He’s handled it well. He’s made big plays consistently. It’ll be fun to see if he can get himself in a spot to be able to hopefully make some plays.
And then Jordan Fredrick and Alex Erickson, two returners. Jordan is now 100 percent back healthy with us. They’ve improved their game. I think Krenwick Sanders and Natrell Jamerson are also two of the young guys that are going to be in there.
We’re going to be receiver by committee. We’re not going to be receiver by Jared Abbrederis this year. And then our tight ends are going to have to help us.
Q: What effects did the new NCAA rule allowing coaches increased access to players over the summer have on the team’s ability to prepare?
Andersen: It helped. I think throughout the nation, you’ll see more freshmen playing. Not necessarily just from a scheme standpoint, but their familiarity with their position coach. Recruiting is recruiting. You built those relationships, but when you’re truly getting in a meeting setting, it helps you. You get on a field with your coach, it really helps to have your coach teaching you instead of a video screen teaching you the offense, the defense and the special teams. A huge positive.
And then those relationships that are built through the summer, I used to go through summer almost paranoid to talk to a kid. Now you’re there with them. I think it holds up in academics. Academics is a positive when you can be around the kids in the way we were able to be around them this summer. In turn, kids are much more settled mentally and they’re more settled physically, which gives them an opportunity to play earlier.
Q: Was there anything specific you made sure to implement over the summer with players?
Andersen: No, not really. I didn’t even make it mandatory for the coaches to spend time with them. I would say it was handled by the position groups. Obviously, they were in the timelines that the rules set out for us. But nothing real specific. What we always try to do in the summer is build relationships and get those kids moving in the right direction and kind of be a father figure. But past that, nothing that was identified that this was what we were trying to get done.
Q: What are your expectations for Melvin Gordon this year, and how do you see his workload change from previous seasons?
Andersen: The expectations that Melvin has for himself are great expectations, and I’ll support his expectations. He wants to be a great team leader. That’s important to him. He wants to be the feature back on a great team at the University of Wisconsin. So we’re going to work like crazy to help him make that happen, and that’s really our two biggest goals on the field.
Off the field, he wants to finish his degree. I have a high expectation that he will finish his degree and get himself prepared for wherever he decides to go or whatever he decides to do at the end of this season.
His role will be amped up without question. He’s ready for that. He’s expecting that. He’s excited about that and so are we. Melvin’s not going to carry the ball 35 times a game. But he will be much more involved as an every down back for us than he was last year. Him and James were almost 50-50 at times last year. James was basically a starter and most games had a few more reps, and that’ll slid Melvin’s way this year with Corey being the backup.