UW coach Gary Andersen wanted to keep the identity of his starting quarterback under wraps. It didn't work.
Let it slip
By ZACH HEILPRIN
MADISON - Gary Andersen tried to keep his starting quarterback against LSU a secret.
It didn’t work.
On Friday, a report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel stated that Tanner McEvoy would get the start for the University of Wisconsin on Saturday in Houston. Early Monday morning, Andersen continued to play it coy, telling 1310 WIBA in Madison that everyone would see who their starter was when they jogged out onto the field at NRG Stadium. And later in the day, during his normal Monday press conference, he reiterated that.
“We've got two quarterbacks that I think are going to help this football team throughout the year, and whoever takes the first snap doesn't necessarily say he's going to be the guy for the whole season,” Andersen said. “We've got two kids who want to compete and will continue to compete. That's where we're going to stay with it.
“You're going to hear the same thing from the coordinators. You're going to hear the same thing from the quarterbacks. That's where we sit.”
Unfortunately for Andersen, that message didn’t get to every player.
In a group interview, while answering a question as to why people are so critical of incumbent starter Joel Stave, star tailback Melvin Gordon let the not-so-secret information slip.
“People definitely overlook (Stave),” Gordon said. “And even though Tanner was named the starter, I think Joel will continue to work and wait for his chance.”
That was followed up with a question about where McEvoy had gotten better since arriving on campus last summer, and Gordon gave further confirmation with his answer.
“I’m excited,” he said. “It’s his first collegiate start as a quarterback. I’m excited to see what he does.”
Though Andersen wouldn’t talk about which player would be the starter, he heaped praise on McEvoy for all he’s done to get to this point. The junior college transfer arrived last summer but never challenged for the starting job, moved to wide receiver, broke his hand and was moved again, this time to safety, where he would start three games. He was back at quarterback in the spring and took advantage of the time Stave missed as he recovered from a shoulder injury.
“Obviously, we feel like he's throwing the ball much better to even be in the (quarterback) race. He would have had to be solid and consistent throwing the football,” Andersen said.
“But the biggest thing for Tanner is the growth within the offense. This is an offense where there's a lot of checks and a lot of verbiage, and it's a pro style offense that a smart kid has to get back there to understand the offense and get it moving in the right direction.”
Despite a lack of experience at quarterback – he has never started a Division I game, and the last time he started any game under center was the 2012 El Toro Bowl with Arizona Western College – Andersen believes what McEvoy did last year will be beneficial to him on Saturday.
“The one thing I would say is he has played in big‑time games,” Andersen said. “He's been a starting free safety, which is the quarterback of our defense. He has a lot of alignment issues, very technical back there. There's a ton of communication that has to take place.
“So he's been in that moment. He's prepared to play in Big Ten games. He's prepared to play in a bowl game, which is great for him.”
Depth chart released
Wisconsin released their first depth chart of the fall, and there were few surprises.
A couple things that did stand out:
- There are six wide receivers in the two-deep, including a pair of freshmen in George Rushing and Natrell Jamerson. Both of them jumped sophomore Rob Wheelwright and redshirt freshman Jazz Peavy after each missed a large chunk of time in fall camp.
UW will likely take as many as eight receivers to Houston, but a large majority of the playing time will be had by the six listed on the depth chart.
“How much playing time goes to the younger kids is (up in the air),” Andersen said. “We'll see how they react in the moment, much like any position.”
The depth at the position is much further along than many people thought it would be. While there is no clear No. 1 wide receiver like Jared Abbrederis was the past two seasons, the coaching staff appears much more comfortable going deep into their bench.
“Our numbers are much better there, as far as a group, than it was a year ago,” Andersen said.
- Last week, Andersen said Warren Herring and Konrad Zagzebski had swapped positions along the defensive line, with Herring at end and Zagzebski at nose guard. The understanding, by most, was that would be how the pair would lineup in the Badgers’ base 3-4 defense, while acknowledging that they’d be moving around in different packages. But on Monday, Herring was at nose guard and Zagzebski at end on the depth chart.
“I could be. I may not,” Herring answered if he’d be lining up at nose guard in the base defense. “I don’t know yet. It just depends on where they need me most, and wherever they want to see me at.”
- Safety Lubern Figaro is one of two true freshmen to be listed as a starter. The Massachusetts native ascended to the top of the depth chart when sophomore Leo Musso suffered a hamstring injury midway through camp. And though Musso is getting healthy, Figaro has done enough in the coaches’ eyes to hold down the spot next to junior Michael Caputo.
“He’s fast. He’s rangy back there. He’s a tall kid, also, long-levered kid that can run,” Andersen said last week. “As a free safety, that’s nice to have.”
- The other true freshman starter is kicker Rafael Gaglianone. The Brazil native, by way of Tennessee, has impressed since the first day of camp. He’s drilled kick after kick in practice and will handle the field goal duties for UW against LSU.
Still, a scrimmage in front of 5,000 people, like the one the Badgers held after the first week of camp, is much different the 71,500 that will be in attendance in Houston on Saturday.
“He acted very positively when we put him in those settings in practice,” Andersen said. “Tried to make it be as competitive, (as) much game‑like situation as possible, but until he jogs out there and does it in a real game, no one will really know how he's going to react. That goes along with a lot of other young kids.”
Sophomore Andrew Endicott will handle kickoffs, as he did a year ago, and Andersen said they’ll bring junior Jack Russell to Houston as well.
- The depth chart includes 12 seniors, 16 juniors, 16 sophomores and 11 freshmen.
Close to full strength?
A big story of fall camp was the minor injuries that plagued the Badgers, but it appears most of those that missed time will be available if needed on Saturday night.
Though Andersen didn’t mention them by name, a picture tweeted out by safeties coach Bill Busch on Monday afternoon showed senior inside linebacker Derek Landisch and sophomore outside linebacker Vince Biegel taking part in at least the walk-thru portion of practice.
Landisch pulled his hamstring midway through the second week of camp and wasn’t expected to practice all last week. He said last Wednesday that the injury was progressing, but that he couldn’t comment on whether he’d be able to play in the game.
Biegel suffered a concussion early in the second week of camp and did not practice in any of the sessions open to the media after that. He was in a green no-contact jersey after practice last week but in the picture he has on the normal red jersey the defense wears.
“I feel real good where we are,” Andersen said of the injury report. “I'm glad we took the precautions that we did as we got through about the middle of camp. I wouldn't say we backed off by any stretch of the imagination, but we were being as smart as we could.
“Hopefully, their legs are coming back, but we should be in about as good a shape as you can hope to be walking into the first game after training camp.”
High praise for Miles
Andersen and LSU coach Les Miles don’t have much of a relationship – they’ve met just once and it was for less than five minutes – but that doesn’t mean the UW coach doesn’t have a lot of respect for Tigers’ coach.
“Tremendous respect,” Andersen said. “I would say what I know best about Coach Miles, other than seeing his teams play, and the respect I have for him, is Corey Raymond, (who) was my cornerbacks coach at Utah State.”
Raymond left the Aggies following the 2010 season, was the secondary coach at Nebraska in 2011, before joining his alma mater in 2012 as the defensive backs coach.
“Corey has tremendous things to say about Coach Miles, which in the end means a lot to me about the type of guy he must be,” Andersen said. “Corey is a quality guy and has been there for a long time and loves working for Coach Miles.”
Listen to Zach Heilprin every weekday on “The Jump Around” at ESPNWisconsin.com, and follow him on Twitter: @zachheilprin