Andersen downplays significance of facing Meyer
MADISON, Wis. -- The last time Gary Andersen and Urban Meyer stood together on the sideline, they were helping Utah polish off a 35-7 Fiesta Bowl victory against Pittsburgh to cap a magical undefeated 2004 season.
When the two coaches meet Saturday, one of them will lose for the first time while sharing the same field. No. 23 Wisconsin (3-1) travels to face No. 4 Ohio State (4-0) at 7 p.m. CT, with Andersen and Meyer now working as competitors. An early position as Leaders Division frontrunner will be on the line. And so will pride between two men who have remained friends over the years.
Andersen, not surprisingly, downplayed the significance of the coaching matchup.
"My take is that it doesn't have anything to do with it," Andersen said Monday during his weekly news conference. "Obviously, Urban's a good friend. I consider him a good friend. Who knows, maybe he doesn't consider me a good friend. We'll talk. We won't talk this week, I can guarantee you this much. It's about the kids, and it always will be."
Wisconsin fans are particularly interested in the Andersen-Meyer connection given the frosty relationship that developed between Meyer and former Badgers coach Bret Bielema, who did not take kindly to Meyer's arrival in the Big Ten. Bielema went so far as to accuse Meyer of using "illegal recruiting" tactics in his pursuit of players who had already committed to other schools.
Meyer was asked Monday during his weekly press conference whether he missed Bielema.
"No, I'm good with Gary," Meyer said. "I think I'm good."
Meyer was Utah's head coach in 2004, with Andersen serving as his defensive line coach, and the two instantly meshed because of their similar coaching philosophies. Andersen noted both shared a passion for teaching and taking care of their players. The Utes would go on to finish the season ranked in the top five in both the Associated Press and coaches polls.
"I would agree that it's easy to work for a guy or be involved on a staff when you have -- not everything has to be in common," Andersen said. "I'm not saying that in any way, shape, or form, but I just think there's a belief -- a core belief in coaching that there's a lot of similarity that we both have. It wouldn't matter if we were coaching 8-year-olds in Little League or we're coaching at the highest level, which we are now. A lot of our core beliefs would not change."
Following Utah's undefeated season, Meyer accepted the head coaching position at Florida, where he would go on to win two national championships.
Andersen said Meyer broached the subject of joining him at Florida, but Andersen pledged his allegiance to friend Kyle Whittingham, who took over for Meyer as Utah's head coach. Andersen worked under Whittingham for four seasons as a defensive coordinator and took over as head coach at Utah State in 2009.
"That was definitely in the equation, and it was discussed and talked about from myself, but coach Meyer knew that I needed to stay there with Kyle, and that's what I wanted to do," Andersen said. "So it was a very brief discussion, and I had already made that commitment to Kyle that, if he was going to take the head job, that I would stay there and stay with Kyle at Utah. So that's what I did."
Meyer has had 10 of his assistant coaches move on to head coaching positions in the FBS, including Andersen. Saturday's game will mark the fourth time Meyer will have coached against a former assistant. He is 2-1 in such matchups, splitting with Mississippi State's Dan Mullen while at Florida and beating Illinois' Tim Beckman last season while at Ohio State.
Gordon honored: Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon was named the Big Ten Offensive Co-Player of the Week on Monday following a stellar performance against Purdue. Gordon carried 16 times for 147 yards and a career-high three touchdowns during the Badgers' 41-10 victory.
Despite averaging just 13.3 attempts per game, Gordon leads the nation with 624 rushing yards this season and an average of 156.0 per contest. His per-carry average of 11.8 yards is the best of any player with at least 30 carries this season.
Gordon is one of three Wisconsin running backs to rank in the top 50 nationally in rushing yards this season. James White ranks No. 23 (110.5 yards per game), and freshman Corey Clement ranks No. 50 (83.5) despite carrying just twice for one yard against Arizona State.
"For us to be up that high, three running backs to be ranked within the top 50 is unbelievable," Gordon said. "That just shows how much work we've been putting in the offseason and just shows how good our coach is."
Gordon is Wisconsin's first Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week since running back Montee Ball received the honor on Nov. 12, 2012.
Gordon shares this week's honor with Ohio State quarterback Kenny Guiton, who threw a school-record six touchdown passes -- all in the first half -- in a 76-0 victory against Florida A&M.
Injury updates: Andersen said it was too early to determine the status of several injured players ahead of the Ohio State game.
"I still really don't know and won't until today," Andersen said. "I have not seen them since after the game. So I'll see them this afternoon. Next 48 hours or so, I think we'll have an idea who's going to be out there. A couple young men probably won't participate or do much until Wednesday or Thursday. It is a factor. We're down some key guys. But the key thing is the next young man step up and go."
Cornerback Peniel Jean (leg), center Dallas Lewallen (ankle) and tight end Jacob Pedersen (knee) suffered their injuries against Purdue. Meanwhile, wide receiver Jeff Duckworth (hamstring), wide receiver/return man Kenzel Doe (unknown) and linebacker Brendan Kelly (hamstring) were hurt at various points leading up to the game.
Pedersen has proven to be an especially important part of Wisconsin's passing game. He ranks third on the team in catches (eight) and yardage (101) and has caught one touchdown.
Andersen noted Brock DeCicco was the next-best tight end in the passing game, so he could see increased playing time if Pedersen can't play.
"The next guy's got to step up," Andersen said.
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