Badgers Transition into Axe Week

(Fleming/13)

Following a 51-3 victory over Indiana, the Badgers fifth straight win, No.16 Wisconsin goes on its final road trip of the regular season to take on border-rival Minnesota in Minneapolis. Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen addressed the media on Monday.

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Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen transcript

THE MODERATOR: The Big Ten announced this morning the Badgers final home game against Penn State on November 30th will start at 2:30 p.m. A TV network was not announced. For this week, Badgers face Minnesota in the battle for Paul bunion's ax on Saturday in the 123rd meeting between the two teams. Game will kick off at 2:30 p.m. in Minneapolis and televised by ESPN. Head coach Gary Andersen is here. We'll have opening comments and take questions.

COACH ANDERSEN: First of all, excited about the opportunity to get to this big rivalry. I know the kids are excited about it. Looking back on last week's game, it was a very solid game all the way across. Very proud of the kids after I watched the tape. Very proud of the coaches and the game plan they put together, the execution, everybody was on the same page. It was what we asked for. Offense, defense, special teams all contributed. They needed to all be able to contribute in that game. The kids were excited, had a lot of juice, a lot of energy, a lot of passion for the game. Another great crowd. Just a terrific day to be a Badger and obviously get that victory.

As we look forward, the -- as I said, on the Saturday after the game, we jumped right into Minnesota real quickly. We got our focus right out of the gate. So we enjoyed it about five or seven minutes and moved on to Minnesota. This is going to be a great challenge. You look at it, to my calculations, there's 28 teams with eight wins in the country, and two of them are playing each other, and four of them are in the Big Ten. It's a great opportunity for us to be able to match up to a quality opponent this late in the year, and on top of that, have it be a rivalry game, something that all Badgers are fired up about. We're excited to get started and get prepared today as we move through the week.

Q. You mentioned Father Mike saying afterwards for the Minnesota week. Is that the first you were educated about the axe rivalry? Or what was the education process about this rivalry and what it means?

COACH ANDERSEN: Probably the first day I was here and Coach Alvarez walked me through and saw the axe sitting in the trophy case. Doesn't take too long to realize how important it is.

I'm fortunate I grew up in a tremendous rivalry, and they're very much the same. The feeling that I get, obviously, my first time participating in this rivalry, but rivalries that have gone on for this long have so many stories behind them, so many moments behind them. It's what I'm used to. It's what's great about college football, in my opinion. I love playing it this late in the year, just makes it that much more special as you continue to move forward through the year.

We talk all along, we talk about getting into a big game. It's in our policy manual. It's something we talk about way back in August, whatever day that was we started camp. You get to the big game, and you're here for a reason. There's two good teams playing, and you got yourself in a position to be able to play in the big game, and on top of it, you put a rivalry in it. It's what college football is all about.

Trust me, I understand the importance of rivalries. I'm excited to be a part of this rivalry. It's going to be a great week of preparation, and I'm sure both teams are going to prepare very well, and both teams will expect to play very well.

Q. Gary, is your respect level for Jerry kill heightened by the fact that you both share the experience of having rebuilt a program?

COACH ANDERSEN: You know, that's a great question. I haven't thought about that question. I would say yes. The ability that Coach has had to be able to rebuild that program and get them where they're at and the ups and downs that we obviously all go through in those situations, but he's a tremendous coach. I got to spend some time with him just riding back to the airport basically after the Big Ten Media Days. That was probably a 20, 25-minute van ride back to the airport.

I asked a lot of questions. Like I always say, I'm not going to sit there and talk a lot when I get around coaches that I have respect for, see if they can give me something that can make me be a better coach. But it was great to sit down and talk with him. A lot of respect for him and his program, with are they're at and what he's done in his career.

The other thing is how many coaches have been with him for a long period of time. You look at that assistant coaching staff -- I don't have the numbers, but I know there's a number of coaches that have been with him two or three different stops. So that's another reason for the success. Obviously, he's a good guy to work for.

Q. Have you had many freshman running backs with the amount of talent that Corey has that also didn't get to play that much?

COACH ANDERSEN: Not with -- the key thing is I've been around talented young backs, but Corey's mental ability to be able to handle it from summer through camp through the early games when he was getting a lot of carries and playing and scoring touchdowns, gaining yards, and going through the middle of the season where some games he didn't get a snap, and then to walk in there last week and do what he did and be as prepared as he is. He's a full package. I would say, no, I haven't been around a young man that is that well rounded mentally and physically at his young age.

Q. Gary, one of the traditions during Minnesota week is one of the assistant coaches make some sort of presentation about the history of the rivalry going back to Jim Huber and then Strickland did it recently. Is that something you plan to continue?

COACH ANDERSEN: We absolutely will. Henry -- Coach Mason is going to do it for us today, and we'll do a lot of things during the week to make sure the young kids can wrap their arms around it and understand what this rivalry is all about. Maybe they had a rivalry in high school. Maybe they didn't. The kids have been in this program for a long time. They get it. They understand it. They know that you can throw all the records out. This year it happens that both teams have identical records, and there's two very good teams playing.

As we all know in rivalries like this, it's a one-game championship, and it's three hours and whatever minutes it takes to get it done. The young kids need to understand the tradition, how it is, how important it is for the kids on this football team, how important it is for all of the Badgers. It matters, and they need to learn quickly what it's all about.

Q. When you were talking about Corey Clement as a freshman, a lot about Sheldon after the game. There were two different situations with shoulder to start. What's more difficult to ask a freshman you're our guy from the start or to see a freshman get a lot of playing time as a reserve but then have to throttle it back because there's two more experienced guys in front of them.

COACH ANDERSEN: A good question, both challenging in their different ways. I just worry about a freshman hitting the wall, and that's what you really worry about with Sojourn, maybe not so much with Corey because he's not in there as much. The mentally his practice is the same and his reps at practice are the same.

I tell kids all the time, we all start something. Every single day, we start something. If you can sustain it and you can maintain, you have a chance to be good, but only the elite can finish, and that's a challenge for all the young kids right now. This football team and everybody associated with the football team has the ability to finish, and they have an opportunity to be great, like I always say. They have an opportunity to be elite, which is greatness at the end.

That's where those kids sit. Challenging for freshmen to play, period, especially right out of high school, coming in the way they did. Sojourn had a little advantage because he was here in January over Corey. Proud of the way the kids have played. Robert Wheelwright in the same position.

Q. When you look at Minnesota on film, what stands out both sides of the ball?

COACH ANDERSEN: I would say this. Very sound scheme. In the simplest of terms, they like to play football this time of year. I think a lot of teams you look at don't necessarily. They have to convince themselves they like football right now. These guys like football right now, no question watching the film.

Well-coached, and they use their players the right way. They'll take their best players and put them in position to make plays. You look at a good coaching staff. I personally believe that's what good coaching staffs do, and that's definitely the case. They've adjusted as the year's gone on to the scheme that they're using now. And the players that they're using now has been very, very effective for them.

Also, they're not real fazed. They get up, they get down. They keep plowing through games and keep battling through there. They expect themselves to make plays at the end to win. It's a well-rounded football team. You can see why they won the games that they won when they're closely dissected on film, which we're still in the process of doing.

Q. Coach kill has obviously had his health issues. Have you ever dealt with something like that where a staff member or any member of the team that's had ongoing issues? How in the world were they able to persevere and win eight games with that going on?

COACH ANDERSEN: Not for that long a period of time. I think the coaches, the players, the kids, they all just kind of bond together in those situations. I'm sure that Coach kill has done a great job of deflecting it away from him. The last thing he wants is those kids worrying about him. It appears that it's a little bit of a rallying cry for them, I'm sure, to play well in those situations. When somebody goes down, whether it's a player or a coach or whatever it may be, they seem -- I can't say it's not fazed them. I'm sure it's fazed them in a lot of different ways, but the productivity on the field has continued to move forward as they've gone through that adversity.

Again, hat's off to the kid and coaches on that staff who have handled it the way they've handled it.

Q. Is there any similarity to what Minnesota does on offense to what you guys like to do, even with some of the jet sweep stuff?

COACH ANDERSEN: Yeah, there's similarities as far as you don't see the fast break football, which will be a nice fresh breath of air for maybe both teams as you sit and look at it. They want to establish the run game. They want to run the ball. They want to be productive in the run game. They use the fly sweep and the jet sweep. It's a little different version than we use. It's more of a staple of their offense, especially the last half of the season. It's been effective for them.

They do a good job of working to get you outnumbered on offense with their schemes. By numbers on how they attack you, they do the same thing on the defensive side of the ball. They try to get you outmanned. Very similar to what the Badgers do. So down those lines, we're very much the same team when it comes to a theory or, I guess, an identity.

Q. Gary, obviously, Chris Borland made a lot of plays Saturday. How did Landisch play? It looked like he was pretty active.

COACH ANDERSEN: He was. A big play he made down there on the goal line was a big time play. He was very active. You saw late in the game, we pulled Chris out, and O'Neill and Landisch came in and played both of the linebacker spots with trotter being a little bit gimpy also.

So the versatility of both those kids has been very good, and they've both been very productive. Huge part for this season and the way the defense has played is the way that those two young men -- trotter is in the same boat the way he's stepped up and played. But I think O'Neill is very solid.

These last games are important to those young men. He's playing at a high level.

Q. Ask about playing the fast offenses the past few weeks in a little bit. What different challenges does it present when you have to play a very deliberate offense as a defense when you have to prepare at the line of scrimmage?

COACH ANDERSEN: There's a lot of checks that take place, I'm sure, just like our run game. You've got to be careful not to trick yourself and not try to change too many things as you get out there. It it fits us. It fits them as far as the way we want to be able to line up and the way you line up in spring practice in the off-season against each other. So it's a little bit of a calming factor, I'm sure, for ourselves and for Minnesota, the fact that you get to line up and have a little bit of time and get things called and communicate and talk presnap on offense and on defense really.

So I don't know what that means at the end of the day, but it's similar philosophies, again, with both teams.

Q. Gary, I would assume in practice your defense goes against the offense and tries to stop jet sweeps or fly sweeps. Has the defense done a decent job in that regard?

COACH ANDERSEN: You know, we -- I guess we do okay. It's kind of tag-on football right now, so you never know the end result, whether you tackle them or not tackle them in practice.

It is an advantage because you do see it. I will say this, though, their offense is a lot more built around the fly sweep, where the fly sweep for us is more of a smaller package. So there's much more to defend with the way they go about it. It's basically set from a spread formation, not all the time, but a lot of the times. And it is truly part of their offensive scheme. They base what they do off coverages and formation -- or coverages and what they're seeing up front on defenses.

Our fly sweep series is more built on we're going to run the fly sweep if we like it. If we don't, we check to another play that they're overloading. And where they're not overloading, we try to go the other way.

I think we've done a good job with it overall. We'll see how we handle it on Saturday.

Q. I know you have a history, obviously, with Andy Ludwig, but when you were putting the staff together at the last minute, why did you eventually settle on him? Why did you think he'd be a good fit here? The reason I ask, you look at the numbers, and he might set a program record for numbers this year. I don't think people would have anticipated that when the season started.

COACH ANDERSEN: With Andy, I've been with him for quite a few years at Utah, and prior to that, coach Whittingham had been with him way back at Idaho State, and they had a tremendous relationship, and then I got to be able to spend time.

When you're a coordinator and a coordinator on the same side of the football, it's a unique experience. Sometimes it's not a great experience. Sometimes it's a very good experience. Andy and I got along very well. We could communicate and bounce ideas off each other. I think, when we worked together, it wasn't necessarily trying to win. Trust me, in spring scrimmages, and I'm a coordinator, I want to win a lot. I want to win badly on that day. We had that agenda definitely.

When we went through the season, we helped each other, and our relationship became very good. His ability to have the details and the things that he throws out there, he's the most organized person that I've ever seen in my life. His computer sits on his desk full of information, very similar to the way Dave is. And then he fit the offense. That was probably the biggest thing, his ability to be able to adapt offenses like he did when he came to Utah, and we didn't have a tight end on the roster, 2000 whatever year that was, '08, I guess, or '09.

We had to adjust to the spread offense, and he did a very, very good job in that time frame until he left. Then he went on and got back into the pro style stuff and did a great job where he's been. He can use the best kids around. Number one for me, I always ask myself, does he care about kids?

Yeah. Is he a good recruiter? Yeah. If he can do that, he's got a great chance, and he's obviously a proven coordinator.

Q. Gary, this might be just a little bit ahead of the game, but the voters for All Big Ten are going to have very difficult choices at running back and tailback. Any advice?

COACH ANDERSEN: No. There's great players in this league. I think we have great players. Again, the chips will fall where they may when it all comes out. It's fun to watch these kids in this league run the football now. I'd imagine it's like that every year, but, again, I don't see it. This is my first time up close. Seeing these young men run around and doing the things that they do.

We have some special players in the backfield, and some other teams have special players. Vote with what you really believe, I guess, I would say, when it comes to that agenda, who you think the best guy is.

Q. Gary, you've seen James White get out in the open field and make defenders miss, whether it's a safety or DB. What do you think he does well at that? If you were one-on-one with him in the open field, what would be running through your mind if you had to bring him down?

COACH ANDERSEN: Probably how I would explain the missed tag L, don't get too embarrassed on the film. If it were me, I wouldn't have a shot. I couldn't tackle like that in the open field. James has done a good job. It was a point of emphasis in spring ball, looking on tape, for Thomas and for James to get him in a position to make those people miss.

He's done it numerous times, safeties, linebackers, corners, he's been very good at that this year breaking off big runs. He has a unique ability. I'd never say I'm a running back coach in any way, shape, or form, but he does a tremendous job of not allowing defenders to eat up the grass. We talk about that all the time on defense. You want to eat up as much grass as you can to get yourself in position to get him on the ground. Sometimes you've got to take a charge. Sometimes you've got to reach. Those guys aren't getting a finger on James.

Obviously, he does a good job of setting up with distance on him from the defender.

Q. Gary, I think you guys are averaging 7.36 yards per play and 7.1 per rushing attempt. Going into this, did you have any idea you'd be this explosive?

COACH ANDERSEN: I don't know if you could ever guess the first year you'd be that explosive on the offensive side of the ball. It's been great to see those big plays continue to take place. I'm going to give a ton of credit to those wide receivers making those extra blocks down the field. We do have guys with great speed that can make you miss. You look at this tape, and we make a highlight film at the end of the year, and you're going to see those extra blocks taking place downfield with those wideouts continually and their ability to come in and get involved with those safeties even when they're trying to get down in the box.

Credit to those kids who are doing it at the wide receiver position, and really to Coach Beatty for having the emphasis to make it important for those kids to want to do that.

But, no, I don't think I would have put those numbers on it if I was going to seal a jar and put the numbers I thought it would be at the end. I'd probably be off.

Q. With Wisconsin and Minnesota being so similar, what do you see as the key to getting a victory? Do you see any specific -- what do you see is the advantage that the Badgers have?

COACH ANDERSEN: You know what, I don't know at this point if I can sit back and say what advantage we have and what advantage they may have, but games like that goes down to you've got to stay right there. You've got to stay level. Can't get too high, can't get too low. You've got to prepare, understand it's a big game. Turnovers are going to be a huge factor, just like they are every single week.

You saw what a couple of early turnovers could do in a game last week. Big plays, our explosives on offense. We've been very successful on offense in games where we've been very explosive. We played very well on offense. I think that will be a key.

On the flip side, getting turnovers and not allowing them to have those explosive plays. If we can do that, it's going to be four quarters of a highly contested football game because you're going to have technique on both sides, you're going to have smart kids who are going to be in the right spots. Somebody is going to have to win in the trenches to move guys around. When both teams have had success, they've been able to do that.

And they found a way to make big plays, whether it's by a turnover or explosive with their offense.

Q. In your experience as a head coach, have you ever, for whatever reason, had to coach from upstairs in the booth? If not, what would be the biggest challenge of being able to do that?

COACH ANDERSEN: No, I have never been up there. I haven't been in the box for -- I can't remember. Last time I was in the box, I think I put a hole in the wall, so Coach McBride never let me go up again. I've been down on the field forever.

But coaching from a head coaching standpoint, up there, that would be quite a bit different. And I can't say the decision making you go through as a head coach would be different, but it would be different. Coach Alvarez should take that question. I know he's been there before.

Q. Gary, do you have an idea whether Dallas is going to be available this week?

COACH ANDERSEN: Dallas is going to move around this week. We'll see how he gets out. Sure hope he has a good day. Danny, again, played very well at the center spot. I was proud of him. It would be nice to have that depth, though. So we'll see.

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