Badgers' Andersen not concerned over QB battle
MADISON--Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen sees the competition for the quarterback job just like those for any other position.
He’s not going to make a big deal over who the 23rd-ranked Badgers settle on.
No extra fuss, no fanfare. The plan is to make the pick for starter public between either Joel Stave or Curt Phillips when Wisconsin jogs on to the field to host Massachusetts in the season opener Saturday.
“We don’t do that at left guard. We don’t do that at the corner position. We don’t do that at the free safety position,” Andersen said Monday.
“The quarterbacks know who the quarterback is, and away we go with it,” Andersen said. “I really don’t think the quarterback position needs to be treated any different.”
The calm, steady demeanor appears to be a hallmark so far of Andersen’s brief tenure in Madison. He’s making his debut on the Wisconsin sideline after being hired last December to replace Bret Bielema, who left for Arkansas.
Finally, it’s almost time for the defensive-minded head coach to trot on to the Camp Randall field for something other than practice.
“Yes, please Saturday come here as fast as possible,” Andersen said. “We’ll never turn down a practice opportunity, but it’s just time.”
The offense that lost standout tailback Montee Ball, who set an NCAA record with 83 career touchdowns, still figures to rely heavily on the running game with James White and Melvin Gordon stepping up as more than capable replacements.
Having different quarterbacks handing them the ball in practice isn’t a big deal, said White, who ran for 806 yards and 12 touchdowns on 125 carries in 2012. He thinks Wisconsin will pass more this year.
“It’s going to make each and every quarterback play better,” White said about the quarterback competition. “I think it will help them throughout the season.”
Last season, Stave threw for 1,104 yards before being sidelines by a broken clavicle against Michigan State. He was leading the Big Ten in pass efficiency at the time with 149.6 rating. Phillips, a sixth-year senior, started the final five games, but averaged only 77.1 passing yards last season.
Quarterbacks aside, receiver Jared Abbrederis (49 catches, 837 yards, five TDs in 2012) thinks the Badgers offense this season might resemble more the high-powered attack of 2011 when Russell Wilson was calling the shots at quarterback. The offensive coordinator then was current Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst.
“I kind of see the same mentality,” Abbrederis said. Maybe less spread, but more play action passes than more running out of play action.
Defensively, the front seven appears to be a strength, with six senior starters in the group. The seventh, junior linebacker Derek Landisch, has played 28 games in his career.
One of those seniors, linebacker Ethan Armstrong, is back atop the depth chart at one of the outside linebacker positions after returning to practice last week from an apparent left knee injury.
Armstrong last year had 93 tackles, second only among Wisconsin returnees to inside linebacker Chris Borland (104 tackles). When asked, Andersen said he was a little curious about what the defense with a healthy Armstrong will look like.
“I feel good about him when he’s out there. Ethan’s played so many snaps. He’s a good tackler,” Andersen said. “So I feel confident that he’ll walk out there and be a good player, burgeoning on a great player, especially if we can get him to where he’s completely healthy every week.”
Andersen would know a little about good defense. Last season as head coach at Utah State, the Aggies were seventh in scoring defense allowing just 15.4 points a game. Dave Aranda followed Andersen from Utah State to Wisconsin to coordinate the defense and coach linebackers.
New venue, and a little more media attention, but similar principles.
“There are a few more cameras. But other than that, it’s really the same ideas,” Andersen said. “I haven’t changed a bit. And I expect to do my job at the highest level.