UMass-Wisconsin Preview

Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen sees the competition for the

quarterback job just like those for any other position.

He’s not going to make a big deal over who the 23rd-ranked

Badgers settle on.

No extra fuss, no fanfare. The plan is to make the pick for

starter public between either Joel Stave or Curt Phillips when

Wisconsin jogs on to the field to host Massachusetts in the season

opener Saturday.

”We don’t do that at left guard. We don’t do that at the corner

position. We don’t do that at the free safety position,” Andersen

said Monday.

”The quarterbacks know who the quarterback is, and away we go

with it,” Andersen said. ”I really don’t think the quarterback

position needs to be treated any different.”

The calm, steady demeanor appears to be a hallmark so far of

Andersen’s brief tenure in Madison. He’s making his debut on the

Wisconsin sideline after being hired last December to replace Bret

Bielema, who left for Arkansas.

Finally, it’s almost time for the defensive-minded head coach to

trot on to the Camp Randall field for something other than

practice.

”Yes, please Saturday come here as fast as possible,” Andersen

said. ”We’ll never turn down a practice opportunity, but it’s just

time.”

The offense that lost standout tailback Montee Ball, who set an

NCAA record with 83 career touchdowns, still figures to rely

heavily on the running game with James White and Melvin Gordon

stepping up as more than capable replacements.

Having different quarterbacks handing them the ball in practice

isn’t a big deal, said White, who ran for 806 yards and 12

touchdowns on 125 carries in 2012. He thinks Wisconsin will pass

more this year.

”It’s going to make each and every quarterback play better,”

White said about the quarterback competition. ”I think it will

help them throughout the season.”

Last season, Stave threw for 1,104 yards before being sidelines

by a broken clavicle against Michigan State. He was leading the Big

Ten in pass efficiency at the time with 149.6 rating. Phillips, a

sixth-year senior, started the final five games, but averaged only

77.1 passing yards last season.

Quarterbacks aside, receiver Jared Abbrederis (49 catches, 837

yards, five TDs in 2012) thinks the Badgers offense this season

might resemble more the high-powered attack of 2011 when Russell

Wilson was calling the shots at quarterback. The offensive

coordinator then was current Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst.

”I kind of see the same mentality,” Abbrederis said. Maybe

less spread, but more play action passes than more running out of

play action.

Defensively, the front seven appears to be a strength, with six

senior starters in the group. The seventh, junior linebacker Derek

Landisch, has played 28 games in his career.

One of those seniors, linebacker Ethan Armstrong, is back atop

the depth chart at one of the outside linebacker positions after

returning to practice last week from an apparent left knee

injury.

Armstrong last year had 93 tackles, second only among Wisconsin

returnees to inside linebacker Chris Borland (104 tackles). When

asked, Andersen said he was a little curious about what the defense

with a healthy Armstrong will look like.

”I feel good about him when he’s out there. Ethan’s played so

many snaps. He’s a good tackler,” Andersen said. ”So I feel

confident that he’ll walk out there and be a good player,

burgeoning on a great player, especially if we can get him to where

he’s completely healthy every week.”

Andersen would know a little about good defense. Last season as

head coach at Utah State, the Aggies were seventh in scoring

defense allowing just 15.4 points a game. Dave Aranda followed

Andersen from Utah State to Wisconsin to coordinate the defense and

coach linebackers.

New venue, and a little more media attention, but similar

principles.

”There are a few more cameras. But other than that, it’s really

the same ideas,” Andersen said. ”I haven’t changed a bit. And I

expect to do my job at the highest level.”

Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP