Notebook: Freshman fullback Austin Ramesh expected to play Saturday; special teams looking to improve

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Gary Andersen spoke Thursday on playing a number of true freshmen this season, including fullback Austin Ramesh. He also said the special teams need to improve and discussed the challenges of defending Tennessee Tech's spread offense.

MADISON -- With starting fullback Derek Watt ruled out for Saturday's game against Tennessee Tech due to a hamstring injury, Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen said he expects true freshman Austin Ramesh to see the field.

Sophomore Derek Straus is still expected to be the Badgers' starting fullback against the Golden Eagles, but Andersen said he sees a need for many of the team's true freshmen to contribute right away rather than taking an initial redshirt year. The coach also expects wide receiver Robert Wheelwright to play more on special teams this week, and he sees a possibility for some of Wisconsin's young linebackers to see the field.

"We need the youth in this program right now," Andersen said. "We may look back three or four years from now and say, ‘Boy, I wish he had another year,' but there's a lot to be learned about traveling, being on special teams, being not on the scout team. So that's where we are with Austin and a number of kids."

Andersen also said he expects true freshman linebacker Garret Dooley (knee) to be practicing again "in the next 10 days or so," which could give the Badgers more needed depth at the position.

Andersen wants improvement from special teams

Wisconsin ran some live special teams reps Tuesday, including some when 12 men were rushing the punter. Andersen confirmed that was no accident.

"Six-on-six overload -- it doesn't get any harder than that, right?" he said with a laugh. "That PAT field goal where they're (offside) by about 12 inches? Just trying to make it be the worst-case scenario. They walk in and hopefully they're able to handle that. It's completely overloaded. They almost don't have a chance, in a way. It's just, make it tough in the moment, so hopefully when we get backed up one day, we can react in a positive way when there is only 11 and they all stay onside, hopefully we can get it off."

Andersen also said the Badgers' special teams units need to show improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, which has made that part of the game a focus during practice this week.

"A few new faces out there, a few new pieces to the puzzle," Andersen said. "We were pretty aggressive this week in practice. The things I'm real interested to see, the kickoff team -- how we get down there, how we kick the ball. We did some good things in special teams last week, don't get me wrong, but we've got to be better. We need to play better on special teams, and we expect to play better on special teams."

Defense expecting challenge from Tennessee Tech

Much of the talk this week has revolved around Tennessee Tech's wide-open spread offense, and how Wisconsin's new 3-4 defense will react to it.

Players and coaches have iterated that the Golden Eagles run much more of a true spread than UMass and have given praise to the play-making ability of quarterback Darian Stone. Andersen said Thursday that Tennessee Tech studied Oregon's offense at length in the offseason.

"They're a true spread team that has it all," Andersen said. "They throw it like a spread team, they run it like a spread team, they run the quarterback, they have all the triple-option.

"We've got to be prepared for a wide-open offense that's going to show us a lot, and it's going to be interesting to see how we can handle a true spread offense with a very athletic quarterback that runs around that's going to be a big part of this game."

Quick hits:

-- In the final game before tough, major conference opponents begin to appear on the schedule each week, Andersen said he wants to see starting quarterback Joel Stave show an ability to simply manage the offense.

"That's No. 1 for him. He doesn't have to do it all," Andersen said. "He's got a great supporting cast. Use his supporting cast, take opportunity when it's there and take advantage of opportunity when it's there. And if it's not there, let us live to play another down. There's a lot worse things in the world than punting the football."

-- While the special teams went live Tuesday, Andersen said he also occasionally likes to see the defense turn up the contact in Tuesday practices.

"Sometimes on Tuesday we'll come up and tackle and be aggressive, as long as it's controlled reps," he said. "It's a little risky, but you've got to be live sometimes to get better."

-- Andersen praised the receiving corps for its downfield blocking in Saturday's win over UMass, particularly Jordan Fredrick.

"Jordan takes great pride in blocking, something you don't see a lot of times in wide receivers," Andersen said. "Unselfishness -- I seem to use that a lot with this team -- he's just another example of it. Jordan's going to do his job. He takes great pride in blocking. It's important to him. He gets excited when he makes a big block. It was great to see.

"When you have the officials come over and talk to you during the game about the physical-ness of the wideouts in a good way -- they were very positive about saying they do it right, they're physical in what they're doing, but they're not looking for cheap shots. It's always good to hear that stuff."

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