Coming off a bye week, Wisconsin football head coach Gary Andersen and his team are already preparing for the two-quarterback system used by No. 19 Northwestern as the Badgers (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) will take on the Wildcats (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) Saturday at Camp Randall.
The Badgers had the week off after falling to No. 4 Ohio State, 31-24 Sept. 28. In the week leading up to the game with the Buckeyes, Andersen repeatedly said it didn’t matter which of Ohio State’s dual-threat quarterbacks the team faced on game day.
However, Andersen took a different approach when discussing the threat of facing the tandem of the Wildcats’ senior quarterback Kain Colter and junior quarterback Trevor Siemian at his weekly press conference Monday.
“Unlike Ohio State, their offense may change slightly when one young man is in there or the other one is in there playing. I think the challenge this week is to sit back and really study the film and say, ‘Hey, does it change? Is it drastic?’” Andersen said. “[To] the normal fan’s eye staring at the offense, it may not seem like a drastic difference, but I believe there’s enough tweaks in there where you can at least be mindful of who’s in the game, and it can matter as far as your defensive calls.”
While a two-quarterback setup isn’t all that rare in college football, it is rare for a duo to put up the numbers these two Wildcats have. Colter and Siemian have combined to throw for 1,278 yards and nine touchdowns with a 72.3 percent completion percentage. In addition, Colter is the team’s second-leading rusher, with 253 yards and four scores on 47 carries.
Andersen applauded how both players have bought into Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s system, comparing it to the dynamic between Wisconsin running backs James White and Melvin Gordon.
“The key thing is both kids believe in it, and that’s what matters most in the end. They both respect each other, and they make the offense work,” Andersen said. “I’d say it’s very similar to the relationship that Melvin and James have at the tailback position. They both believe in each other, and they’re unselfish guys.”
The bye week came at an opportune time for the Badgers as they were dealing with injuries to many key components including Gordon, redshirt senior tight end Jacob Pedersen, junior wide receiver Kenzel Doe and redshirt junior center Dallas Lewallen.
“Injuries should be pretty well up to speed. From that standpoint, the bye came at a good time,” Andersen said.
Additionally, he said practices will be cut down from 21 periods per week to 18, a method he firmly believes in.
The Badgers didn’t use their bye week to prepare for Northwestern, but rather to improve as a team.
“The key for us in the bye week preparation is to evaluate ourselves as coaches, evaluate the team as a whole and try to make sure that we’re using the kids the best we can to help them win football games,” Andersen said. “We look at ourselves and say we have to create more turnovers on defense. We can’t give up big plays on defense. We’re young in the back end, but youth is not an excuse. It does not matter; We’ve got to get better.”
Despite being ranked sixth in the country in total defense, allowing just 272.6 yards per-game, Andersen added the defense must improve in big situations.
“We cannot let people get behind us. We’ve got to get better on third downs on defense overall,” Andersen said.
Andersen acknowledged Wisconsin will be facing a tough, well-coached opponent in the first Homecoming game during his tenure. The Wildcats led Ohio State 30-27 late in the fourth quarter on Oct. 5 but couldn’t hold on to pull off the upset.
“No one can watch them and say, ‘That’s just an okay team.’ They’re a very talented team, coached very well,” Andersen said. “It’s a good football team, there’s no questions. Very mature, play mature, they play hard, they play fast. Two good teams are going to face off and look forward to Saturday.”