After a solid win on the road against Illinois, Wisconsin head football coach Gary Andersen was optimistic about the direction of his offense heading into a bye week before UW’s next conference game at Iowa.
The Badgers improved to 5-2 (3-1 Big Ten) in their 56-32 defeat over the Illini (3-3,0-2) Saturday night. In his press conference Monday, Anderson expressed satisfaction in his team’s performance, particularly the performance of his star duo of running backs.
Senior James White and redshirt sophomore Melvin Gordon ran for a combined 240 yards and six rushing scores. For Andersen, it’s not only Gordon’s performance on the field, but also the rising star’s mentality that is bringing him success.
“Melvin is in a position when you start talking to him about football and what he needs to do, he understands he’s got a lot to improve upon,” Andersen said. “His natural ability is unbelievable, and he’s done a great job of developing himself, but he wants to be even a better runner between the tackles. He wants to work on his protections. He knows he’s got a lot to work on. You see him do that every single week in practice.”
Andersen was also especially pleased with fullback Derek Watt’s performance. Watt only had one catch for five yards, but it was his blocking that allowed for such a dominant outing in the run game.
“Watt was as good as he’s played,” Andersen said. “He’s the player of the game for us from a staff standpoint as far as the offensive side of the football. He’s not flashy, which we all know, but all he does is do his job, and he does it with physicalness and takes great pride in it every single snap. He did a tremendous job.”
Andersen also supported quarterback Joel Stave, who faced some criticism after missing a few throws in Saturday’s game, the biggest of which was an under-thrown bomb to Jared Abbrederis that could have been a 75-yard touchdown for UW.
“Joel was solid. There are those glaring throws. Trust me, the first guy that wants those back is Joel, and the second guy that wants those back is coach [Andy] Ludwig,” Andersen said. “They talked about some different things and some possible adjustments that can help him as the game goes on to keep him in the moment. But I think Joel’s progressed every week. He carries himself well. He seems to adjust with what defenses are doing.”
Despite the missed connections, Stave’s overall performance was solid, finishing 16-21 for 189 yards and two touchdowns.
Andersen also shed light on the situation with kicker Kyle French, who announced he would forgo his senior year last Thursday. He said French made the decision based on academics.
“There’s really no situation other than the fact of the matter is that he’s in a position to be where he wants to potentially finish his degree, which is the most important thing to me, and it’s a good spot for him to play this year out,” Andersen said.
Although senior Linebacker Chris Borland left Saturday’s game with a right leg injury, Andersen was confident he would be ready for the Badgers’ next game vs. Iowa.
“I talked to him last night. Have not seen him today. I texted him last night, didn’t talk to him, but he seems to be fine,” Andersen said. “He returned, it’s very simple with Chris, ‘Coach, I’ll be ready for Iowa.’”
Borland will have some time to recover as the Badgers enter their second bye week this week, which will prove useful as they prepare to travel to Iowa for another Big Ten road game.
“This bye comes at a good time. Chris is hurt … The next opponent we’re playing, we need Chris. This is two heavyweights swinging at each other for four quarters,” Andersen said. “We picture ourselves a team that likes to get into those physical games. You don’t have to watch but 10 snaps on Iowa to know that they like it, too. They like it a lot, and we like it a lot. So we need to be firing on all cylinders.”
UW has not played for the Hartland trophy since its exciting 31-30 victory in 2010. The Hawkeyes (4-3,1-2) are coming off consecutive losses to Michigan State and Ohio State, but are looking to bounce back next Saturday against Northwestern before hosting the Badgers Nov. 2.