MADISON, Wis. — Over his coaching years, Gary Andersen has developed a five-step “Plan to Win” approach, which outlines achievable goals for every game. Attain two of them, and Andersen figures winning the game is nearly a coin flip. Achieve three, and the odds are in his team’s favor.
“If you get four of them, you’re almost guaranteed victory,” he said.
The five steps are as follows: 1) Play great defense. 2) Take care of the football. 3) Score in the red zone. 4) Play great special teams. 5) Win the fourth quarter.
In his assessment of Wisconsin’s 31-24 defeat at Ohio State on Saturday night, Andersen noted the Badgers did only two of five things well: score in the red zone and win the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, a 10-0 fourth-quarter win couldn’t claw Wisconsin out of a 17-point hole.
In other words, Wisconsin didn’t do enough to beat a team that will likely be in the national championship hunt all the way through the Big Ten season and perhaps beyond.
The Badgers lost the special teams battle because kicker Kyle French missed a 32-yard field goal, while Ohio State’s Drew Basil made a 45-yard attempt. Wisconsin also drew an illegal formation penalty after recovering a fumbled punt.
“The call was made,” Andersen said Monday at his weekly news conference. “I guess my take on that was if we put ourselves in a position for an official to make that call, then we need to be better coaches and we need to be better as players and not let that happen. That’s as simple as that one gets. It was an infraction. It was thrown.”
Wisconsin committed just one turnover, but it proved costly. Quarterback Joel Stave was intercepted by Bradley Roby, and Ohio State scored on the ensuing drive for a 31-14 lead.
And defensively, Andersen acknowledged his team did not play great. Specifically, he mentioned Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller’s 40-yard touchdown pass to Corey Brown with one second remaining in the first half. Brown snuck behind cornerback Peniel Jean and safety Dezmen Southward after Jean did not stay deep on him, and Ohio State took a 24-14 halftime lead.
Though Southward and Jean said the play call was for a cover-3 zone, in which three defensive backs play one-third of the field, Andersen said Monday it was a cover-2 for two backs to play half the field.
“There’s a lot of dynamics to they’re going to throw it in the end zone, they’re going to try to get 15 yards underneath,” Andersen said. “You drop eight — five under and a three-deep zone — there’s going to be a hole in there of about 20 yards and they’ve got a chip shot field goal.
“I support the call that was made. I support the decision that was made. Can we play that better? Yeah, but I’m not going to put that on a kid. As coaches, we can coach it better and put PJ or whoever is back there in a better spot. We failed the kids in that system, in the moment to not get him in a spot. It’s the call that was made. If I didn’t like it, I should have called a timeout and I didn’t.”
The task now for Andersen is to regroup his players for Wisconsin’s next game on Oct. 12 against No. 16 Northwestern. The Badgers will be hard-pressed to earn a return trip to the Big Ten championship game and likely will need to run the table the remaining six conference games to have an outside opportunity.
There are only two games on Ohio State’s schedule likely to threaten the Buckeyes’ unbeaten streak of 17 games — this Saturday at Northwestern and Nov. 30 at Michigan in the regular-season finale.
Andersen believes the Badgers will recover and be prepared for the rest of the season, despite the fact Wisconsin now stands at just 3-2.
“The message for them is to stay the course, learn, and we’ll have a good team meeting today where we’ll learn from these situations,” Andersen said. “Accept responsibility as coaches and as players and move ourselves onto the next game. We’re excited about that opportunity. They’ll be fine. Trust me.
“I got 20 text messages from kids last night saying, ‘Let’s go.’ So they’re in a good spot.”
Injury updates: Andersen said he expected receiver/kick returner Kenzel Doe to play against Northwestern on Oct. 12. That comes as a surprise because Doe tweeted Saturday night that he had torn a hamstring muscle. Instead, Andersen suggested Monday it was merely a pulled hamstring.
Tight end Jacob Pedersen also should be back to play against Northwestern after missing the Ohio State game. Andersen said he left the decision of playing against the Buckeyes up to Pedersen.
“My only comment to him before the game was, ‘How are you feeling?'” Andersen said. “He says, ‘Well I’m going to warm up and see.’ Obviously that didn’t take place. I didn’t have any more communication with him. If he could play, he would play. If the trainers cleared him, he would definitely play. He’ll be back. You miss a kid like him. But he’ll be fine.”
Pedersen sprained his left knee during a Sept. 21 game against Purdue.
Running back Melvin Gordon, who left the Ohio State game with an apparent knee injury in the third quarter, also is expected to play, Andersen said.
Gordon entered Saturday’s game averaging 11.8 yards per carry but was held to 4.9 against Ohio State (15 carries for 74 yards).
“They did a good job of a couple times shoestring tackling him and things we may not be used to seeing with Melvin,” Andersen said. “They made some of those plays. Melvin was physical. He picked his spot. Had some good runs.
“I’m sure he’s not overly happy with his production against Ohio State. They made plays. I thought he had a good, solid game. He’ll want definitely better than that and if he were sitting here, he wouldn’t agree with me.”
Stave making strides: Badgers quarterback Joel Stave put together an excellent game Saturday against Ohio State, throwing for a career-best 295 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Andersen noted Stave had improved his play-action passes, while the offensive line had given him plenty of protection.
Stave also didn’t shy away from big moments, which was particularly encouraging for Andersen.
“The most important thing is Joel appears to be preparing very well and he’s functioning in the moment very well,” Andersen said. “He seems a lot less nervous. Nervous is not even the right word. I don’t believe he was nervous. He reacts to adversity in a calm and cool way now as a quarterback. That’s impressive. And I didn’t really feel that in spring and sometimes in fall camp I didn’t feel like that. But he’s just, ‘OK, here we go.’ And that’ll continue to improve.”