Following the Wisconsin football team’s 35-6 Homecoming victory over Northwestern, head coach Gary Andersen reflected on Tanner McEvoy’s development and the dominating defense as the Badgers (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) enter the second half of their schedule.
While UW’s three-pronged rushing attack of Melvin Gordon, James White and freshman newcomer Corey Clement usually earns most of the praise, Andersen rightfully highlighted the stout effort his defense put forth Saturday, holding Northwestern without a touchdown — a first for the Wildcats in seven seasons.
“This defense has had great effort all year long, but there were some extra effort plays in that game that just jump out at you,” Andersen said.
Among Saturday’s “unusual efforts” Andersen mentioned were the seven sacks made by seven different Badgers, a statistic that exemplifies how the defense has excelled by utilizing its depth in Andersen’s scheme.
“I think they’re adjusting to the amount of packages and really understanding that there are not 11 starters on this defense, there’s up to really 15 or 16 starters, if you will,” Andersen said.
Expectations seem to be rising throughout the defense, which allowed Andersen to shine light on one player that may be new to defense, but not to high expectations.
A highly-touted junior college transfer, McEvoy joined the Wisconsin program this summer with many drooling over the prospect of a 6-6 dual-threat quarterback commanding Andersen’s offense. However, after breaking his hand during preseason preparations, McEvoy’s potential offensive contribution seemed unlikely, so the coaching staff tried him out on defense.
Despite his initial reputation as a quarterback, McEvoy seems to embrace physical play and his all-around athleticism has earned him increasing playing time at safety. He has registered eight tackles in UW’s last two games.
“He’s a smart kid, that’s not an easy position to play. Mentally, to go over there and grasp it as quickly as he has and be able to get into a game like Northwestern, with all that offense, to be able to deal with it is a true credit to the kid,” Andersen said.
Fortunately for McEvoy and the Badgers, their experience defending Northwestern should come in handy this Saturday, when they face another mobile quarterback in Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase.
Although the Illini have not won a conference game since October of 2011, Andersen insisted his team is well aware of the dangers they’ll face in Champaign.
“We talk all the time about respecting our opponents,” Andersen said. “In the morning meeting with the coaches, the kids seemed to be focused and moved in the right direction.”
Andersen also discussed some of the formations his offense showed last Saturday and his intention to prepare more options moving forward.
“The playbook is ever-growing. It is year one, you still got to have a foundation and a base offense before you continue to build on that, but I know they build on it every single week,” Anderson said.
One look Badger fans could see more of down the road is the Wildcat formation, which eliminates the quarterback in favor of two running backs in the backfield. UW attempted the Wildcat sparingly last Saturday, but their execution requires more practice, according to Andersen.
“We’ll have to hone in on that a little bit more, but I think that will be something that will definitely help us as we move forward to get a little pace out of the offense,” Andersen said.
An additional aspect that could help the offense get going this Saturday is the return of leading wide receiver Jared Abbrederis.
After opening UW’s scoring with a 63-yard touchdown catch, Abbrederis exited Saturday’s contest during the second quarter due to a head injury. While he did not re-enter the game, coach Andersen is optimistic about Abbrederis’ prospects of playing this weekend.
“I am hopeful and I feel good about that, but we’ll know more in the next 48 hours. If Jared has the opportunity, he’ll go,” Andersen said.