Andersen bears weight of expectations
For a first-year coach inheriting the expectations that come with three consecutive Big Ten Titles and a perennial top-25 ranking, Wisconsin's Gary Andersen is remarkably composed.
''I don't feel any pressure at all,'' said Andersen, hired away from Utah State to replace Bret Bielema, who left for the head coaching job at Arkansas. ''I know that the young men on the team have high expectations, the coaches do. But Wisconsin football has high expectations of themselves. I think we need to understand exactly where we sit and the position that we're in.''
''To get back to where we want to be - and everybody in the Big Ten wants to get to the same place, they all want to get back to the Rose Bowl - to get there you're going to have to play at a high level. Five hundred in the league I don't think is going to get you back to the Rose Bowl.''
The 49-year-old Andersen turned around a moribund Utah State program in four seasons. His first two teams at Utah State went 4-8 then 7-6 in 2011 before breaking through last season to finish 11-2. One of those defeats was a 16-14 loss to Wisconsin in Week 3 when kicker Josh Thompson missed a 37-yard field goal in the final seconds.
Although eight starters return on offense and six on defense, Wisconsin has questions at quarterback, wide receiver and in the secondary.
The Badgers have experience at quarterback, but also uncertainty as returnees Curt Phillips and Joel Stave compete with junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy for the starting job. Stave, a redshirt sophomore, started six games last season and was leading the Big Ten in passing efficiency before breaking his left collarbone against Michigan State. Phillips, a sixth-year senior, started the final five games, but averaged only 77.1 passing yards last season.
''That's how it's been every year for me,'' Stave said of competing for the position. ''I'm just looking forward to the competition and the challenge.''
The 6-foot-6 McEvoy is a dual-threat quarterback who passed for more than 1,800 yards and 24 touchdowns and ran for another 252 yards at Arizona Western College after transferring from South Carolina.
''Obviously, I can run the read-option, but on pass plays, I'm a pass-first quarterback,'' McEvoy said. ''What I think I bring to the table is making plays after the first couple seconds, after the first hit. Just extending plays and making plays like that.''
Wisconsin, long known for its running game, returns senior James White and sophomore Melvin Gordon, but must replace Monte Ball, a second-round pick NFL pick who set an NCAA record with 83 career touchdowns. Ball's 5,140 rushing yards rank second in school history behind Ron Dayne.
Playing behind Ball, White has rushed for 2,571 yards and 32 touchdowns, averaging 6.1 yards per carry. Gordon had just 62 carries last season, but averaged a whopping 10 yards.
''I'm very excited,'' said White, whose role diminished after he rushed for 1,052 yards in 2010 when he was named Big Ten freshman of the year. ''This is the opportunity I've been waiting on. I've been working hard this summer, working hard my whole career. I'm going to do anything I can to help this team win and that's all that matters.''
Freshman Corey Clement appears to be the lead candidate for the third running back spot, with Derek Watt - brother of Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt - at fullback.
''We need a third running back to step up. We know we have two very talented young men back there,'' Andersen said.
The Badgers also must find a second receiver to take the pressure off senior Jared Abbrederis, a former walk-on quarterback who led the team last season with 49 receptions and 837 receiving yards.
''We need to relieve the strain from Jared, relieve the double-teams,'' Andersen said. ''I'm not going to say it has to be a super-fast guy or this unbelievable route-runner. There's kids in this program that can do it. If they put in their time and they wrap their arms around the situation, I think we'll have success.''
To help offset the questions at wide receiver, the Badgers are loaded at tight end with all-conference pick Jacob Pedersen, Brian Wozniak and Sam Arneson.
On defense, the Badgers are switching to a 3-4 under new coordinator Dave Aranda.
''This year it's entirely different, which isn't all bad,'' said linebacker Chris Borland, an all-Big Ten pick last season. ''The aggressiveness of it. The calls are very aggressive. A lot of zone pressures. A lot of things we can do that really puts the offense on their heels. I feel like at times in the past, we've been on our heels, reacting to the offense. This new style, we kind of dictate the play.''
The main area of concern on defense is the secondary, where senior safety Dezmen Southward is the lone returning starter. At cornerback, junior Peniel Jean, who has played in 19 games, and sophomore Darius Hillary, who has played in 13, appear to be among the leading candidates.