Wisconsin football coach Gary Andersen spoke with the media Tuesday morning on the Big Ten’s weekly coaches teleconference before the Badgers have their second bye week of the season.
Andersen discussed his thoughts on cornerback Sojourn Shelton’s development, linebacker Chris Borland’s status as a field goal kicker, fullback Derek Watt’s role in the offense and whether he likes nonconference games being played in November.
Here is the full transcript of Andersen’s conference call:
Andersen: It was great to get a road win in the Big Ten. As I go through this conference, every team you prepare for is a very good team and very physical and great environments when you go on the road. I thought the kids played well. We lost Chris really in the first quarter. I thought the defense took a little bit of a step back at certain times during the game, especially in pass defense. But they did what they had to do. They were very solid and good against the run.
Offensively ran the ball very, very well. Melvin (Gordon) and James (White) were very effective. In turn, obviously the offensive line, tight ends, wide receivers, fullbacks blocked very well for them. I thought Derek Watt had his best game as our fullback. He was very physical. Sometimes those kids go unnoticed but he had a tremendous game for us and did some good things for us. We were solid on special teams. So fortunate to get a win against a very talented Illinois team and I look forward to the bye week.
Q: Are they any surprises in the success that you have had since you took over as coach?
A: I think there’s always surprises both ways. If you look at our ability to be able to consistently run the ball so far this season, I don’t know if I want to call it a surprise. But it’s a good situation that we’re in for sure. Now we are going to be tested in that area real hard coming up in the next few weeks here. There’s some good teams. But that’s been a bright spot.
I think the growth of Joel (Stave), how he’s developed as a quarterback managing a game has been a very positive thing for us. That doesn’t just go with completions or TD throws. I’m talking about turning the ball over, getting the run checks, dealing with the bad things when they come your way, so on and so forth. That’s been good.
And then the adjustment of the kids into the defensive scheme. Not from the odd front to the even front. To know their role and understand we’re a package defense where kids may have played 60, 70 snaps or almost the whole game in the past, some kids are playing 30 or 25 snaps. That’s a departure for them and they’ve accepted that and I’m proud of them for that.
Q: What are your thoughts on mixing in a nonconference opponent in November like BYU?
A: The schedules are done so far in advance, you don’t really know where a team is going to be. BYU is playing at a very high level right now and have gotten a whole bunch better as they’ve gone through the year this year. There’s one way to look at it: That’s a great team coming in. It’s another way to look at it and holy cow, it’s a great team coming in. They’re good games.
I would rather play all the early games myself early in the season and go right through the conference. But it is what it is. We’ve got them on the schedule where they’re at. Teams in this conference, I know through the athletic directors, the conference and the coaches are continually looking to upgrade the schedule and get them in position as the Big Ten to play at a high level week in and week out.
Q: What do you think of cornerback Sojourn Shelton’s development?
A: Yeah, I think Sojourn for a young freshman, he’s handled it extremely well. I think that has a lot to do with the mentors he has back there in Dez (Southward) and some of the other defensive players have really helped him grow and mature.
Credit goes to Sojourn in how he’s developed and handled it mentally and how he’s handled it physically. He’s got three picks now on the year and is becoming a more physical tackler. It’s great to see a young freshman play at that level, especially at that position. It’s not the easiest thing in the world.
Proud of Sojourn. He’s going to have his opportunities to make plays. The ball still is going to come his way. He’ll have to make those plays. But he’s been very solid as a freshman. And I would say this about our back end on defense. It’s a challenge to get all those young kids playing together. But they’re accepting the challenge.
Q: Would you have seen this team being as athletic and deep as it is on defense when you saw players at the Rose Bowl?
A: I couldn’t really evaluate them that much at the Rose Bowl. I don’t know if surprise is the word. The power this senior class as I’ve said many times is very, very important to us and the direction that we’re going to move through the rest of this year. But if you just sit down and look at them, they key is to get these older kids. There’s so many of them and they fight to play football because they love the game, love the University of Wisconsin. There’s been many surgeries. There’s many stories. There’s many sixth-year kids that are on this. And I look back and I say those kids didn’t have to stay here. They stayed here because they love this university.
I look at that as my responsibility to get them ready for game day. It’s a unique structure to get those kids to the game. It’s practicing them the right way and getting a young man like you mentioned earlier, Sojourn Shelton, ready to play as a freshman when he can get as many reps as he can possibly take to get better.
They’ve done a good job and they’ve accepted their roles. I appreciate them for that and we’ll work like crazy as a staff to allow them to be running and firing on all cylinders on Saturdays.
Q: Do you look at November as the heart of your schedule, and does this week’s bye fall at a good time for your team?
A: I don’t ever really look at a heart of the schedule. I’ve never really been one to do that. I know some coaches do. It just is not the way that we believe it as a staff. We kind of look at it one week at time, and that’s coach talk, but that’s truly how we do it.
As far as the bye falling where it is right now, it’s a good time for us, especially with the little bit of a tweak to Chris to allow him to be able to get back. We had two tough Big Ten games back to back. Now we’re going to take another break and get ready for the rest of the regular season, which our kids are excited about. I like where this one fell. The timing is good and maybe a little bit fortunate for us as we look to the Iowa game.
Q: You have two bye weeks in a month. How do you make the most of it?
A: We’re going to treat the second bye week just as we did the first for the most part. We will not do quite as much on the front end. We want to get preparation for Iowa. These guys are a very big, strong, physical team. You all know that. They’ve definitely got the respect of the Badgers as we start to prepare for them. We want to get the kids out there and get them used to schemes. We’re not going to be physical with the older kids at all. We’ll look at it as another time to spend some time with the young kids.
But these are crucial academic weeks for us. High emphasis on especially our young kids understanding how important this time of the year is academically. We’ll spend extra study hall time, extra time with our position coaches with our kids in academic meetings to make sure we’re caught up and going in the right direction. And then get fresh. And then walk away at the end of the week and enjoy the weekend a little bit.
Q: Would you like to get the ball in Derek Watt’s hands more down the stretch?
A: Yeah, I would. And I’m sure he would, too I’d like to see him get the ball in his hands. He’s proven he can do that. I think it’ll be coming his way as we move forward.
He would like the opportunity. Not one time has he ever said coach, am I ever going to get the ball? Or ever said that to Thomas. I think it’d be a nice reward for him to have a few carries and some more catches as he comes out of there. He’s proven he’s a quality receiving back.
Q: Can you evaluate Chris Borland as a placekicker?
A: In practice, he’s 7-for-8 last week and he missed just a touch wide left on a 45-yarder. Drilled the rest of them. He’s very good at that. I think everything Chris tries to do athletically, he’s very, very good at it. It’s amazing. He took the coaching. Not that the coaching made a big difference.
I told coach (Jeff) Genyk to stop coaching him. He hasn’t missed yet. He’s been good. He played a ton of soccer, so it’s not foreign to him. He’s handled that adjustment well. Now, as we move forward, we’ll see how the injury affects that.
Q: Will his hamstring injury cancel him out of that job?
A: Yeah, it will for a little bit. I would say that’s going to take place at the Iowa game would be a stretch. Why take the chance when you don’t have to? Obviously kicking is going to affect that hamstring probably more so than running, so we would have to be real careful.
Q: What’s the longest kick he’s made?
A: Forty-five (yards) I believe when we had him out there at practice was the longest one I saw him make. He’s probably made longer than that in practice.