MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said Monday there was room for improvement in the Badgers’ special teams unit following a season opening victory against UMass. And he went to work this week trying to fix those issues with some unusually special teams-heavy practices.
Will the results be any better Saturday against Tennessee Tech? Andersen sure hopes so, noting there would be “a few new faces out there.”
“We were pretty aggressive with it this week in practice,” he said following Thursday’s practice. “I’m really interested to see the kickoff team, how they get down there, how we kick the ball in field goal situations and all aspects. We did some good things last week in special teams, don’t get me wrong. We’ve got to be better.”
In particular, Andersen pointed out earlier in the week that Wisconsin’s point-after and field-goal protection “had some definite leakage in it.” Wisconsin also played soft on kickoff coverage, allowing UMass return man Trey Dudley-Giles to return four kicks for an average of 26.0 yards, which ranked 19th nationally in Week 1. Plus, Badgers kicker Kyle French made just 1 of his 2 field goal tries.
During the portion of Tuesday’s practice open to the media, Andersen sent out backup punter Stephen Salata on a punting drill in which the defense had 12 men on the field. Salata faced immense pressure and was actually run into on two of his kicks.
Though Andersen rarely spends time working on live special teams drills in the week leading up to a game, he said Tuesday was the right time.
“Sometimes on Tuesday to come up and tackle and be aggressive I think can be a positive as long as it’s controlled reps,” he said. “It’s a little risky, but you’ve got to be live sometimes to get better.”
Andersen also noted he had the defense line up offside, about 12 inches over the ball, on point-after attempts to simulate more pressure.
“It doesn’t get any harder than that, right?” Andersen said. “Just trying to make it be the worst-case scenario when they walk in, and hopefully they’re able to handle that. It’s completely overloaded. They almost don’t have a chance in a way, and a lot of that goes onto the snapper and the kicker.
“Make it tough in the moment, so hopefully when we get backed up one day we can react in a positive way. When there is only 11 and they all stay onside, hopefully we can get it off in a critical situation.”
Ramesh to play: True freshman Austin Ramesh is expected to see the first game action of his young career on Saturday because of an injury to starting fullback Derek Watt. Sophomore Derek Straus will take over the starting role in Week 2, and Ramesh will serve as his backup.
Andersen said he believed Ramesh would “probably” play Saturday, and that means Ramesh won’t be one of the team’s freshmen to take a redshirt season.
“We want to get him involved,” Andersen said. “A lot of those young kids, there’s going to be a lot of those questions as we go through. Right now we’re planning on him playing. It’s a philosophy, but we need the youth in this program right now. You guys know that from seeing us and where we are on the depth chart.
“We may look back and three or four years from now say, ‘Boy we wish you had another year.’ But there’s a lot to be learned about traveling, being on special teams, being not on the scout team. So that’s where we are with Austin and a number or kids.”
Watt injured his hamstring running down on a kickoff during the third quarter of the UMass game.
Ramesh, a 6-foot-1, 235-pounder from Land O’Lakes, Wis., was rated the No. 3 fullback in the nation out of high school by Scout.com.
Oregon 2.0? Andersen said Wisconsin needed to be prepared for a wide open true spread offense against Tennessee Tech, the likes of which are rare in college football.
Who does Tennessee Tech resemble on the field?
“I know they studied Oregon a lot this year,” Andersen said. “There’s a lot of similarities but even more of an option touch is what we’re expecting. They’re a true spread team that has it all. They throw it like a spread team. They run it like a spread team. They run the quarterback. They have all the triple options, so it’s a lot of offense.”
Tennessee Tech put up nine touchdowns in a 63-7 victory against NAIA school Cumberland in its season opener last week but should have a more difficult time against Wisconsin. It’s worth noting that Tennessee Tech played at Oregon last season. The Ducks won 63-14.
Dooley on the mend: Wisconsin freshman linebacker Garrett Dooley has been sidelined since Aug. 7, when he injured his right knee on a punt-coverage drill during fall camp. Andersen said he expected Dooley back soon, “hopefully within the next 10 days or so.”
Dooley was one of the top inside linebackers in the country at Rochester (Ill.) High School, where he recorded 132 tackles and 14.5 sacks. Dooley tweeted after his injury that he had dislocated his kneecap.
“Love to get him back out here and get him back on the field,” Andersen said.