Thursday, November 7, 2013
Old foe in Andersen's new Wisconsin way
By Brian Bennett
Wisconsin has hopes of reaching a BCS game this season if it can win out and finish 10-2. The biggest obstacle in the path might just be one that first-year head coach Gary Andersen knows very well.
Although Saturday marks just the second meeting between the two schools, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen is very familiar with BYU.
Upon becoming the Badgers coach and looking at the 2013 schedule, Andersen couldn't help but think: (BY)U again?
"That was one of the most surprising things about taking this job," Andersen said this week. "It was a little unbelievable and shocking."
Wisconsin hosts BYU on Saturday in just the second-ever meeting between the two teams and the first since 1980. But it's just another year for Andersen. As Utah State's head coach and a Utah assistant before arriving in Madison, he has faced the Cougars in each of the past nine seasons, and this will be the 16th time in the past 17 years that he has helped lead a team against BYU.
He's also very friendly and familiar with BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, who gave Andersen his first big coaching break when Mendenhall was an assistant at Northern Arizona.
"I was at Park City High School coaching, and Bronco called me out of the blue," Andersen said. "We had competed against each other in junior college as players when he was at Snow College and I was at Ricks. He had called me. He was at Northern Arizona and asked me if I wanted to coach the defensive line or have the opportunity when I had really nowhere to go. I didn't have an ‘in’ in college football at that point. I was hoping I could get back in at some point.
"So I owe Bronco a lot for that phone call."
Andersen's son, Chasen, signed with BYU in February but then decided he wanted to follow his dad to Wisconsin. Mendenhall released Chasen from his letter of intent.
One of Andersen's first breakthrough victories at Utah State came in 2010, when he led the Aggies to a 31-16 win at home over BYU. It was Utah State's first win over the Cougars since 1993.
"One of our major goals was to be able to beat them, and a win was huge for our program," Andersen said this week about that win. "I don't know if I can really put into words how important it was, but it got us moving in the right direction."
The familiarity with BYU's coaches and personnel could help Wisconsin's preparation this week, especially as the Badgers step out for the lone November nonconference game in the Big Ten. But there won't be many secrets on either side.
And this is an important game for Wisconsin as it tries to climb high enough in the BCS standings to qualify for an at-large bid. The Badgers are stuck at No. 24 and have poor computer rankings. BYU (6-2) is not ranked but is among the highest teams in the others receiving votes portion of the major polls. In Jeff Sagarin's Pure Elo computer rankings, which are used for the BCS formula, the Cougars are No. 13. They've won five in a row and own an impressive 19-point win earlier this season over Texas.
BYU's fast pace and balanced offense -- the Cougars are averaging over 500 yards per game with a near even split between the run and the pass -- will present a stiff challenge, especially if Wisconsin star linebacker Chris Borland is still slowed by a hamstring injury. Andersen does have one thing going for him that's different from his Utah State days -- the Camp Randall Stadium factor. The Badgers have not lost a nonconference game at home since 2003, a stretch of 28 games.
It's no stretch to say that this might be their best win of the season, if they can get it. And then Andersen will finally get a break from BYU -- at least until 2018 and '19 when Wisconsin and the Cougars are scheduled to play again.