MADISON, Wis. — The idea of finding significant areas to nitpick following a 45-0 victory may seem far-fetched to some, but Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen certainly is not among that group.
After reviewing game footage of his team’s dismantling of UMass in the season opener, Andersen came away feeling the Badgers still have plenty of room for improvement. And without further tweaks, Wisconsin will get burned in games when it matters most.
Specifically, Andersen noted Wisconsin twice having miscues involving the center-quarterback exchange, which resulted in fumbles the Badgers recovered. The Badgers also were fortunate to keep the ball on a punt return that hit the leg of a Wisconsin player before being recovered by returner Kenzel Doe.
“Ball was on the ground three times in that game where we get it back three times,” Andersen said. “Once on the punt return and two times on the C-Q. It’s not going to happen. Living on the edge in a tight ballgame and just let it go away and don’t address it. It will be a big-time issue, and we’ll all be sitting here with a loss one day. Those things concern me. They concern me highly, and I’ll never just look the other way and say ‘Oh, we’ll be OK next time.'”
In addition to those mistakes, Andersen said Wisconsin’s point-after and field-goal protection “had some definite leakage in it.” The team’s kickoff coverage also needed to improve, he said. UMass return man Trey Dudley-Giles’ four returns for an average of 26.0 yards actually ranks 19th nationally after Week 1 of the college football season.
“They get the ball I think it was three times on the 25-, 26-yard-line,” Andersen said. “That’s where you’re going to get it if you take a knee also. But when you’ve got one kid making a tackle on the 25- or 26-yard-line, that concerns me. It’s one broken tackle away from being a huge play. That will hurt us. That will haunt us.”
No. 23 Wisconsin (1-0) will have its next crack to work on those mistakes when it plays host to Tennessee Tech (1-0) at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Watt injury status: Andersen did not know whether fullback Derek Watt would be available for Saturday’s game yet. But he sounded prepared to play without Watt for at least one week. Watt strained his left hamstring while running down a kickoff in the third quarter against UMass.
“We’ll have to wait to see,” Andersen said. “The big thing is to get him back and get him healthy. The last thing you want is to have a reoccurrence of an injury in that place with a hamstring situation.”
Andersen noted freshman Austin Ramesh would be available to play Saturday against Tennessee Tech, likely in a backup role to redshirt sophomore Derek Straus.
“We want to create competition like we always talk about and we will create some competition in that area,” Andersen said.
Andersen said the run game remained effective with Straus in as Watt’s backup. But he said Watt’s blocking ability was unmatched among the team’s fullbacks.
“Watt has such a good knack of positioning,” Andersen said. “You don’t need to just be a killer blocker every single time as a fullback. The positioning of the blocking is so important. It’s a lot like the way our tight ends block at times. The ability to not hold at the moment and get off the block when you feel him go by, there’s so many of those little things, the intangibles that Watt does such a good job of that’s going to be a challenge for those other two as we move on. Was it as good as Mr. Watt? No. But it’s a work in progress, and that’s the way it’s going to be for the next week or so.”
Watt also caught one pass for 12 yards against UMass.
FCS talk: Andersen was asked for his opinion on playing FCS opponents as Big Ten teams prepared to drop them entirely from the schedule. Wisconsin will play host to FCS opponent Tennessee Tech on Saturday and Western Illinois in 2014 but does not have any other FCS teams scheduled in the future.
“It sounds like we’re doing it, so I hope everybody else does it,” Andersen said. “It’s not really any of my business at the end of the day. Our schedule is going to be what our schedule is. If it all goes away, I’ve been at that level, I’ve coached at that level. It’s going to be a sad day for those programs if that happens. And not just from a financial standpoint. From an opportunity standpoint for those kids to walk into games like this and be able to play.
“I remember it as a coach. I remember those kids being fired up for those opportunities. If that’s the way it all goes, I just hope everybody is on the same page when we do go down that road.”
Tight ends involved: Andersen stressed the importance of involving Wisconsin’s tight ends more in the offense. Tight ends accounted for four of Wisconsin’s 10 receptions against UMass. Jacob Pedersen caught two passes for 15 yards, and Sam Arneson added two catches for 17 yards.
Still, Andersen believes they can achieve more.
“They’re going to be big part of it,” he said. “They need to be, and I would expect them to catch more passes. I think with the people understanding now that every time a wide receiver cracks, you better be ready for him to run right by your face because they’re going to do it two or three times a game. If you don’t, it’s going to be 21 points because they’ll not connect on it and then they’ll do it again five or six snaps later. That should really loosen that up, and it should get that intermediate zone a little looser for the tight end to roam around in and make some plays.”