After a day to digest Wisconsin's season-opening loss to LSU, head coach Gary Andersen met with reporters for his weekly Monday press conference. A few players were also available, so we'll recap the highlights of their comments as well.
We already have a story up with comments from Andersen and Melvin Gordon regarding the running back's absence for much of the second half Saturday. Basically, Gordon suffered a hip flexor injury and the coaching staff was pretty cautious with him. It does appear there was some miscommunication between Andersen and Gordon, though both expressed interest in moving forward with preparation for Western Illinois.
Updates on injuries
Defensive end Konrad Zagzebski (head/neck) and nose guard Warren Herring (leg) both left Saturday's game with serious-looking injuries. Andersen said Monday that both should be back shortly.
"[Zagzebski], he came back with us, which was great, on the plane," Andersen said. "He'll be out there moving around and should be ready to go. If not this week, for sure after the bye week.
So everything looks to be good for him. Warren will be a day-to-day situation with what he had with the little bit of the knee scenario. But he should be back shortly."
With those injuries along the defensive front, two players who could be in line for more playing time are freshmen Conor Sheehy and Jeremy Patterson. Sheehy has settled into a defensive end position, while Patterson is suited for nose guard at 6'3, 326 pounds.
"Conor is ahead of Jeremy right now," Andersen said. "Conor traveled with us. There were some thoughts and discussions on the sidelines, if we go down that road in that game; we did not. Conor Sheehy is developing. Jeremy is developing. I'm proud of both kids, the way they're working.
"Today, I would say Conor would travel if we were going to go on the road. He'll obviously suit up at home, but is he still going to play? Don't know. And Jeremy would be behind Conor."
The question Andersen answered was specifically about those two freshman, though neither is listed on Wisconsin's depth chart for Western Illinois. At end, Chikwe Obasih and Zagzebski are still listed as starters. Behind them are Alec James and Jake Keefer. At nose guard, Herring is still listed as the starter while Arthur Goldberg is again his backup.
Offensively, wide receiver Rob Wheelwright is also expected to play Saturday. The sophomore wideout has been sidelined since early fall camp with an undisclosed injury, but is expected to practice full-speed this week.
UW will be " a little bit careful" with fellow wide receiver Jordan Fredrick, who also was injured for much of camp.
"We've got to pick our reps and pick our spots," Andersen said in reference to Fredrick. "Him being in the spot that he's in, we just gotta be as smart as we can to keep him moving throughout the season. I'm not saying to protect him, because he's definitely ready to go out there and play, but we want to kind of pick our spots of success with him, if that makes any sense to you."
Tanner McEvoy starting Saturday; Joel Stave could also play
Aside from the situation with Gordon, UW's quarterback situation was the most pressing issue facing Andersen at his Monday press conference. In short, while he explained that the passing game must improve moving forward, Andersen said McEvoy will start once again for Wisconsin's home-opener vs. Western Illinois on Saturday.
"I still think there's opportunities for both guys to play," Andersen said.
"We need two quarterbacks. Sooner or later you'll have to have them both. Tanner is the starter today, but Joel's going to fight like crazy to get some reps. There's opportunity to present itself for Tanner to be able excuse me, for Joel to come in and play, so be it.
You can look at the numbers, if you want to break down just the numbers of the football game, whatever you say, whatever you want to say about the quarterback play, you can say whatever you want to say about the receiver play, the protection. It was the whole offense was the passing game. Tanner did some things, he made some plays, just like a quarterback has to, that we asked him to make with his feet at times.
To recap: McEvoy finished 8-of-24 for 50 yards and two interceptions. In the first half, he was at least adept at leading Wisconsin to three scoring drives while going 5-of-13 for 33 yards.
Both of McEvoy's interceptions came in the fourth quarter, when Wisconsin's lead was quickly diminishing and the offense seemed essentially unable to move the ball. The first pick came with 12:08 left in the game, on a 2nd-and-12 from the Badgers' 33-yard line. UW at least still had a 24-21 lead; the second interception came with 6:35 to go, and on a 3rd-and-10 from the Badgers' 48-yard line. With the offense sputtering, that interception seemed to be the "dagger" in Wisconsin's hopes of winning.
"We lost the fourth quarter, obviously," Andersen said Monday. "We did not run the ball well in the fourth quarter. When we had to throw the ball in the fourth quarter, we didn't throw the ball well in the fourth quarter. I believe it was 1-for-7 or whatever it may have been. That came with a lot of different scenarios from bad balls to drops, to protection issues, so on and so forth.
"We've got to be able to execute in that area. From a defensive standpoint, we'd been excellent on third downs all day long."
- Andersen credited safety Michael Caputo for having an "oustanding" game. He said the staff credited Caputo with 20 tackles (10 assisted, 10 unassisted), one pass break-up and the second-quarter fumble recovery. "Unbelievable game out of that young man," Andersen said.
- Also on the defense, inside linebackers Derek Landisch and Marcus Trotter received praise from Andersen. "[They] organized the front, got guys moving in the right direction. We had some breakdowns when we got to the freshmen late in the game," Andersen said.
- Punter Drew Meyer struggled with cramps during the game, but Andersen said he wasn't injured any further. Meyer was among the disappointments Saturday night, as he punted eight times with an average of 37.5 yards per punt with zero landing inside LSU's 20-yard line. For comparison, LSU punter Jamie Keehn also punted eight times for an average of 42.5 yards per punt. "We expect him to, obviously, punt the ball better and he expects himself to punt the ball better," Andersen said.
- Andersen is no longer on Twitter. "I dumped my Twitter," he said. "I just think it's the best. For recruiting, I tried it for period of time. The assistant coaches definitely need it. But it just really becomes one more distraction that I don't need to be able to deal with.
- Defensive backs Lubern Figaro and Sojourn Shelton "lost their eyes" on a few plays, according to Andersen. "We left some balls over our head. And that's as much of a swing in the football game as the fourth quarter," Andersen said in reference to LSU's big passing plays in the second half
Luke Mueller contributed reporting to this story.