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Kohlbeck: Andersen proves his worth in second season at UW

first_imgWhen the Wisconsin football team blew a 24-7 lead way back against LSU Aug. 30, the Badgers and second year head coach Gary Andersen suddenly found themselves in the midst of a three-game losing streak.Not only did the Badgers miss out on a statement victory against a well-known SEC team in LSU, but combined with two losses from the previous season — against Penn State on Senior Day at Camp Randall and to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl — questions started to circulate about whether or not Andersen was the right successor for former UW head coach Bret Bielema.And things did not get better for Andersen in the ensuing weeks of his second season at the helm of the Badgers.Following the LSU loss the Badgers did win three straight games, but they were against teams that can be considered as textbook “cupcakes.” And then the Big Ten season started and Andersen and the Badgers had a chance to start conference play on the right foot and start the journey to the Big Ten Championship game. But once again Wisconsin lost a close game, falling to the Wildcats 20-14, and had now lost their last four games against Power Five conference opponents.After the Northwestern loss the Badgers were 4-2 on the season, 0-1 in the Big Ten and had a messy situation at quarterback with both Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy. A Big Ten West Division championship seemed like a far-off possibility. The play calling of offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig was questioned, while unrest with the performance of Andersen filled Madison and the state of Wisconsin.But fast forward seven weeks, and the Badgers — under the direction of Andersen, Ludwig and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda — are going to the Big Ten Championship game for the third time in four years.After the debacle at Northwestern, Andersen and Ludwig decided to go with a two-quarterback system. It’s a strategy that makes most football fans cringe simply when they hear the term and one that has prompted the well-known phrase: “if you have two quarterbacks, you have none.”But Andersen and company turned things around. The two-quarterback strategy became effective and the Badgers rattled off seven straight wins — including a blowout of Nebraska, a two-point win at Iowa and Saturday’s win over Minnesota to close out the regular season — to claim the Big Ten West division title.While the offense was and still is largely fueled by the efforts of Heisman contender Melvin Gordon, it’s been the play of both Stave and McEvoy that has kept things open for Gordon. Andersen and Ludwig saw the talents in both quarterbacks and decided it would be best to utilize each one’s individual strengths to help the offense overall by putting them both on the field.Since the implementation of the two-quarterback system after Northwestern, Stave has been effective over those seven games going 71-for-117 (61 percent) for 928 yards with seven touchdowns and just one interception. McEvoy on the other hand has used his feet and the run option to run for 288 yards on 31 carries (9.3 average) and four touchdowns.Defensively, the Badgers under both Andersen and Aranda have found the right players to fill in for a defense that lost seven of its starters from last season. A quicker, more athletic UW defense now leads the Big Ten in most major defensive categories and ranks second in total defense and fourth in scoring defense in the nation.But it’s also been the ability to win close games that has Andersen in the Big Ten Championship game in just his second season at Wisconsin. The Badgers pulled out another close game that came down to the fourth quarter Saturday against the Gophers after winning a decisive battle in Iowa City two weeks ago against the Hawkeyes.The changes Andersen has made in his second season at UW have shown he has what it takes to be successful in the Big Ten as a head coach. After the loss to Northwestern, the Badgers were considered to be a far cry from being legitimate contenders to win the Big Ten West. Now, they are the 11th-ranked team in the AP and Coaches poll and have a date with the Ohio State Buckeyes next weekend at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for the right to be called Big Ten champions.So while this season can certainly finish even better with a victory over the Buckeyes, regardless of what happens Saturday, Andersen has a Big Ten West Division title under his belt and has proved his worth as the head coach for the Badgers in just his second season.last_img read more