Wisconsin Prepares for Senior Day

Gary Andersen (USA Today Sports)

Up two spots to No.14 in the AP poll and up four spots to No.15 in the BCS, Wisconsin looks to push its winning streak to seven games when it hosts Penn State on Senior Day Saturday. Head coach Gary Andersen addresses the media Monday.

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Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen

COACH ANDERSEN: It was another great victory for us without question. The kids played hard in all three areas again. You go back and look at the tape, and that was two football teams that that game obviously means a lot to them. They played at a high level. It was cold, all the weather and everything out there, but if you watched the game, not knowing what the situation was with the weather, you would look at it and say, those are two teams that laid it all on the line, and that's exactly what happened.

We played, obviously, well enough to win the game. So I was proud of that.

Defense played outstanding, consistent in the run game. Very good in the throw game, which was a very difficult throw game to deal with a lot of stuff they brought to the table. So it was a great victory for us. Rivalry games are -- I guess, as you go through it, myself and many of the young kids, you have even more of an appreciation of that particular rivalry game as we move forward. It was a big-time environment. Kids were excited to play in it on both sides, and that's what college football is all about.

So we're happy the ax is back with us, and moving forward to this week. One thing, just off of football, I know there's a lot of students this week that normally can come to the games that are going to be going home with their families and enjoying Thanksgiving. That's important. But if we can give those tickets to somebody that doesn't get an opportunity to go to Camp Randall to watch a football game, I come across probably hundreds of people a week that don't have the opportunity to get to Camp Randall to see a game.

If we can get those donated to whoever, friends, family members, students, whoever it may be, even charities for people to get into Camp Randall, it's something they would Cherish for the rest of their lives. So hopefully, we can get that stadium filled up, and it's the time of year where there's a lot of things going on for the students, obviously.

Moving on to Penn State, big, big time game again, last game of the year for these seniors, last time they'll ever walk into Camp Randall with that helmet on and play. It comes with a lot of emotions for myself and the players. Excited about the opportunity to compete, and it's going to be a great week. It's a challenge for me, for the team and myself, is we get to do it again and the seniors don't.

So the underclassmen and all the coaches, managers, trainers, everybody -- strength staff, everybody that's involved, deserves their best shot for these seniors this week to make sure their last three hours in Camp Randall is enjoyable, and I know we're going to get the best shot out of the seniors. It will be great preparation. Penn State, as I watch them from the film that I've evaluated, a very sound, well-coached football team. They have very, very talented pieces to the puzzle, which you would expect from a Penn State team, and it will be a tremendous challenge.

They've played very hard in it every game. They continue to play very hard. It will be, as I get to sit down and watch more film on them, I'll get a better idea of exactly where they're at. They're going to be very good. They're going to be excited to play and very sound, and technically they take care of their business, and they play hard.

What's your history, Gary? The good and bad of senior day. Do players get too emotional, or how big of a deal do you make out of it?

COACH ANDERSEN: It's going to be emotional. Like I said, it's emotional for me to see those kids moving across the field for the last time. It's emotional for the kids early on. But we get out there with plenty of time. They'll lock and load. My guess is they'll go through it very well. They'll get the pictures and have some things to remember for the rest of their lives. They'll remember that moment. I remember my senior day. I remember walking out there the last time, and they're going to remember it.

When it comes time, when their families walk off the field, and friends or whoever may be there to escort them out, it will be over with, and they'll move on, and they'll play the football game. But it is emotional.

For me to sit there, it's great for Stacy, she gets to be this week and watch those kids walk out for the last time. It's important for myself and for her and all the coaches to be involved in it also. But they'll play how they're supposed to play.

Q. Gary, if I remember correctly after the game Saturday, you said you don't want to see a kid like Melvin kind of idle L on the bench for a little bit just because he may have put the ball on the turf. After the game, Melvin said -- Melvin wasn't happy that he stood around for a while before he came back in the game. Is there anything you need to address with Melvin or how that situation was handled or not?

COACH ANDERSEN: No, I haven't heard anything about it. I think, if it was an issue, Melvin would come and talk to me about it. Secondly, I believe Coach Hammock would come and talk to me about it. Melvin was fine.

I thought Melvin ran really hard in this game. When he got his opportunities, he was physical, had some nice runs. He's in a good spot. He'll be fine.

Q. Usually in senior week, we asked the Coach to talk about being in these guys' homes, watching them and recruiting over a four or five-year period. For you, obviously, unique circumstances in this situation. What stands out for you with this senior week, just you and your connection with them?

COACH ANDERSEN: Just their ability to let us in. That's -- I'll forever be indebted to those kids for believing in us. I truly do not remember a young man rolling his eyes or saying what are we doing? Everybody changes, and there's different ways to run programs, and there is no perfect way.

We just do what we think is right and do what we preach with We just do what we think is right and do what we preach with the kids as far as trying to take care of them and helping them grow from young men to men and all the stuff that I've talked about a thousand times.

And these kids, you know, they seemed to buy into us and believe in us and know that what we do say we mean, and because of that, that's why they've had the success they've had. There is no magic offense, defense, there is no magic coach. It's the kids that put them in a position to win football games. They've hung together through a lot of adversity and a lot of good times in their careers.

This year is exactly the same thing. There's been adversity off the field. There's been adversity on the field.

The way the senior crew wrapped their arms around Tyler Dippel when he went through a very, very tough situation and the way they handled the debacle in the desert, or whatever you want to call that thing that took place down there, it was amazing. And they were -- as Coach Alvarez would say, they didn't flinch. That's a credit to those kids.

Q. Gary, you talked about the emotions of senior day. Do you do anything specifically to refocus the guys after the emotional introduction?

COACH ANDERSEN: No, we'll get together and take a break real quick. That's the only thing we've done. Again, it doesn't worry me with this crew. They'll be fine. They'll get on the sideline and focus themselves and get out and get it done against a very good Penn State team.

Q. Gary, are you at all surprised how you've been able to connect with this senior group? They've had a different coach for four or five years previously.

COACH ANDERSEN: I wouldn't say I was surprised. Again, I go back to almost a year now when Coach and I sat down. I just had the feeling and the belief, from what he stood for and obviously what he wanted out of the program, and it just fit from what I believed in.

I talked to the kids, and those kids that I was able to communicate with when I first came here and communicate with in a very brief time at the Rose Bowl led me to believe it's going to be that way, and it's been nothing but that.

We have unique kids who care about a lot of things in life. Football is one of them, but it's not the only thing. That fits what I believe in very well, and that's what's helped it all come together.

Q. Gary, what challenges does Allen Robinson bring for your defense? And if you could, if it's possible, maybe compare him to Jared, what strengths they have, how they're different, that type of thing.

COACH ANDERSEN: Well, he's made a lot of big plays, and Jared has made a lot of big plays. Down the field, in the middle of the field. He gets off coverages very well, seems to read the zones and sit down on whatever you want, option routes or where he has the ability to run a streak or sit it down and break the route off on the outside. He's very good. He's very, very talented at what he does. Jared has been very productive. They're both very, very good football players. A lot of similarities. Their contested balls, they catch, and they make big plays for their football team. They've both done that again this year.

Q. I think a lot of people thought that, with everything that's gone on with Penn State over the last few years, with all the sanctions and what not, that they would be very much down over the last few years, and they really haven't. You might not know, but why do you think that is?

COACH ANDERSEN: Well, probably devoted kids would be my bet, from the outside looking in. Kids that believe in where they're at and what they want to do. They have good football players, I know that. Just watch them on tape and the way they play.

Obviously, their coaching staff has done a great job, and they've been challenged with a unique situation. Probably didn't come with a whole bunch of anticipation of how to handle that. There is no coaching handbook on how to handle a scenario like that.

Apparently, they've bonded together very well. They've come together. They work hard. Ultimately, they have good football players and good coaches that give them a chance to win.

Q. I think I know your answer on this, but did you have a strong reaction when you learned that Borland was not on the Butkus finalist list?

COACH ANDERSEN: I didn't know he wasn't so -- you know, it surprises me. Like I said, my opinion, I guess the best linebacker in the country is not going to be on that list.

Q. Gary, how about the quarterback, Hackenberg, the freshman, what you've seen out of him, and how he's developed to this point?

COACH ANDERSEN: He's definitely developed. Coach O'Brien does a great job, works with the offense, works with the quarterbacks. He's done a great job of that. I communicated with him, when we've had a chance to talk just briefly. But this kid has gotten better and better and better throughout the year, which you would expect.

He's a competitor. He can throw all the balls. I think the offense has grown, as it's gone through the season, to give him a little bit more as he's progressed and developed. They've just got confidence in each other as a play caller and as a quarterback. He was very highly recruited for a reason.

He's a very talented young man. Great poise for a freshman. I know he really does. He hangs in there and doesn't make a know he really does. He hangs in there and doesn't make a bunch of bad decisions. Takes it when it's there, gives it to them, doesn't give up a chance to move the ball down the field.

Q. I know the last home game is a time for reflection for the seniors, but for you, last home game here at Camp Randall for this year, when you look back, what were the expectations back in August for you in this job, and how have they matched or not matched what's gone on?

COACH ANDERSEN: The expectations was the same as it was when I got asked that question in July, and it's to have the seniors walk out of here with their head held high and their chest puffed out, and a big emotional "W" on their chest or their hat or wherever it may be, and they wear it with pride for the rest of their lives. That's what's going to happen with this senior class.

That's the number one priority, get them out of here feeling great about their school. Done a great job academically. Most of those kids were well taken care of academically before we got here, and they're moving in the next direction of life, whether that be playing football or getting a quality job or starting a family, whatever it is, they're leaving here in a good spot.

Q. Is back in August, we all wondered what changing to a three-four defense would mean for everybody. Now you're in the top ten in a lot of important categories defensively. How big of an accomplishment is that to have a new defense that worked out so well?

COACH ANDERSEN: Well, it's a great accomplishment for the players and the coaching staff on the defensive side of the football. Probably the biggest adjustment, looking at it now -- and I was thinking about this the other day -- is the ability for these kids to accept their roles.

When I say that, there was -- when you don't sub out packages -- again, that's just the way we do it. I'm not saying it's the right way. I'm not saying there's one way to do it. But we do play with a lot of different packages, so young men had to accept roles in packages.

An example would be a young man like Vince beagle. One week he's highlighted and plays a great game, well, he just fits that package. Armstrong might be another example. One week he fits outside linebacker, and he's not in every snap. Beau Allen as well. I could go on and on. There's not as many snaps, as many reps to go around. Those kids have done a great job of making the reps count, not counting the reps.

I say that a lot, but that's what's led us to be successful and giving us the opportunity because we have got players and plugging them in the right spots is what good coaches do. They've been able to work as a team, team of coaches and team of players, and be able to get that done. I would also say the production in the back end with a tough group of kids that were asked to change positions -- Nate (Hammon), (Leo) Musso, Tanner (McEvoy). It goes on and on and on, the kids that produced at the safety position have really, really, really good players there. We have three or four DBs that were able to play that way with young players that weren't recruited to play that spot is a real credit to the kids and again the coaches.

Q. Each of the last couple weeks you've been asked kind of in the form of a negative about the BCS rankings and how much attention you paid to it. Now that the news appears to be better this week, did you pay attention? And did that message change to the kids knowing you're one win away from the BCS bowl game?

COACH ANDERSEN: We didn't address that. As kids, they'll play. They know the importance of it. But if they're given that opportunity and they're deemed to be in that position -- you know, the best thing I say about that is, if they can find a way to win this game against Penn State, do I think that they deserve that opportunity to play in a BCS bowl game? Absolutely, yes.

Again, I don't have a bunch of say in that, but I do believe that. I think that they've put themselves in the elite of the elite position in the Big Ten conference, and to do what they've done, if they can win on Saturday, then I believe they should be given that opportunity.

I don't get into the formulas. I don't know the formulas. But I would be in full support if they got that opportunity.

Q. Coach, you've been talking all year about trying to become a great team. How do you define that?

COACH ANDERSEN: Well, I would probably say the same thing I said after the press conference. If it was over right now, I'd tell them they have a great team, but I don't want to tell them that yet. I don't want them to know it yet. They'll know exactly what I'm talking about if they hear me, if they listen to the press conferences. The they've the got to be in the moment. They've got to prepare for the moment. This is a great football team. And the way they play, the way they prepare off the field, on the field, what they've done, and they'll continue to grind it out.

We have two more opportunities to play games, and thank goodness we do. I don't want it to end yet. They don't want it to end yet either. Trust me, there's enough teams in America that are waiting for the last click of the clock to go away so they can get to the off-season or get on in life. That's not the case with this group.

Q. Where you paying attention to the results of the Ohio State game?

COACH ANDERSEN: I didn't pull up my phone after the game and look at the Ohio State score. I couldn't tell you when I found out they won. I didn't accept it. I'll never accept the fact that there's always an opportunity, if we take care of our business, and that's just what we're doing.

Q. Gary, to what degree do you make yourself aware of personal milestones for your players going into a game?

COACH ANDERSEN: If I hear about them, I'll probably address them with the kid and tell him congratulations. The but I'm not searching up on him. That's his job. He can find them for me and let me know if something's out there. But it is important. I talked to them about, if they can do something special, that would be fantastic.

Q. I think Tanner has been a pleasant surprise at the safety spot, coming in as a quarterback and obviously making the adjustment. Have you had any conversations with him about what he wants his role to be moving forward, in terms of safety, quarterback, whatever? It what are his thoughts and what are your thoughts moving forward?

COACH ANDERSEN: We had zero conversation and zero thoughts. He's the safety, starting safety in two or three of our packages, and that's where he's going to remain for the rest of the season and for the next two games, and then we evaluate everything, just like we do at the end of the year, and do what we can do moving forward.

Sit there and say, as well as he's done and he continues to progress, pretty good opportunity for him to come in as a starter and continue in that position. Or you can come in and get yourself in a quarterback battle or whatever it is. Again, we'll address it. We'll see where it is, but not until we get through the next two games.

Q. Just curious what the Thanksgiving day plans are for the team? Gather as a group, or are they on their own?

COACH ANDERSEN: Eat lots, take care of their business. Here's what we'll do. Standard operating procedure until Wednesday night. Thursday morning, we'll get up and practice early. We'll be done between 10:50 and 10:54 as we plan to be off the field. The kids will be done.

I want them to get into a family environment. I encourage as many as would like to to come to my house for Thanksgiving or come to an assistant's for Thanksgiving. So I want them to be in a family environment.

Now, the great thing here is we have so many young men that can drive home because we give them that opportunity. Or you would be amazed at the number of families that are coming to Madison to cook. So a lot of kids are gathering together -- parents, family, cousins are coming down to cook for them. So they're in good spots.

So if they're smart, they'll probably try to come to my house about 1:00 and then push that other one off until a little bit later in the day and double dip. That's what I would do if I was a young kid. They'll be in a great family environment, and they'll have some fun.

Q. Gary, is there anything from the post-game Saturday that you feel needed to be addressed with the Big Ten or any changes that need to happen going forward?

COACH ANDERSEN: No, no, that's water under the bridge. The biggest thing I would say is ultimately at the end both teams handled it. The kids on the team both handled this as pretty good in the setting in the situation. When I was down there -- and I wasn't down there for very long. I was caught up in it for just a brief moment. But all the other stuff, we've moved along, and away we go.

I can learn from it. Probably everybody can learn a little something from it, and we'll go onward.

Q. Do you cook or carve the turkey or stay completely away from the kitchen?

COACH ANDERSEN: Definitely don't cook it. I would embarrass my father if I tried to carve a turkey. So I'm going to stay away from that and eat as little as possible too. Really trying to pride myself on not eating too much. We'll have some fun watching football, and it will be fun to be around those kids. It will be a good environment.

Q. Gary, since we've gone away from football all together here, you mentioned to us at the Big Ten media day that your getaway is lawn mowing. Now that the grass has stopped growing, do you find the same retreat in snow shoveling?

COACH ANDERSEN: Stacy takes the snow shovel away from me. She likes that. She's probably got her shovel today and moving along. No, I don't. I can't say I like shoveling snow like I do cutting grass. That is absolutely not the truth. That's not the truth.

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