Despite a rash of recent injuries, University of Wisconsin football coach Gary Andersen did not identify getting healthy as the team’s top priority during this week’s bye.
In fact, it didn’t even make the top two.
That could be an indication Andersen feels pretty comfortable with where the team will be injury-wise by the time the next game rolls around at home against Northwestern on Oct. 12.
“I don’t think we’re an unbelievably beat up football team right now,” Andersen said at his weekly press conference on Monday. “I think we practice well. The kids have handled it.
“If they walked in here and told you, ‘On a scale of 1 to 10, am I that tired? Nine’s as tired as I can be,’ would they say they’re 9? I don’t think they’d say that. I think they’re more of a 4 or 5 maybe, which would be normal.”
Andersen said the top two priorities are developing the young players on the roster and recruiting.
“Then making sure we take care of the kids that have been with us,” he said. “So, I guess (getting healthy) would be No. 3, if I said those are the three most important things.”
Sophomore running back Melvin Gordon missed the fourth quarter of the 31-24 loss to Ohio State on Saturday night after suffering an apparently minor knee injury on the final play of the third quarter.
Gordon, who came in as the nation’s leading rusher, dropped dropped to No. 8 with a season-low 74 yards on 15 carries, which was still a respectable 4.9 yards per carry. He is now averaging 139.6 rushing yards per game, which still leads the Big Ten Conference.
“Melvin played well and they tackled well,” Andersen said. “I give credit where credit is due. I thought Ohio State’s safeties came down and it’s one thing to have a safety in a spot, as you draw it up on the board. They did a good job a couple times of shoestring tackling him, things we may not be used to seeing with Melvin, but they made some of those plays.
"Melvin was physical, he picked his spot, had some good runs. I’m sure he’s not overly happy with his production against Ohio State. … I thought he had a good, solid game. He’ll want, definitely, better than that. If he were sitting here he wouldn’t agree with me but that’s what I think. He’ll be fine. He’ll be ready to play.”
Tight end Jacob Pedersen was held out of the game with a sprained knee after going through warmups.
“It was kind of Ped’s call, and I’m a big believer in that,” Andersen said. “When you’ve got a tough-minded kid, who’s a competitor, who wants to play in that game more than anything, my only comment to him before the game was, ‘How you feeling?’ He said, ‘Well, I’m going to warm up and see.’
“Obviously, that didn’t take place. I didn’t have any more communication with him. If he can play, he would play. If the trainers cleared him, he would definitely play.’ He’ll be back. You miss a kid like him. He’ll be fine.”
The other injury updated by Andersen was junior wide receiver Kenzel Doe (hamstring), who is expected to be back for the Northwestern game.
Despite giving plenty of credit to the Buckeyes and they’re impressive overall speed, Andersen never felt like his team was physically overmatched in the game.
“That is a very talented team, without question,” Andersen said. “They run very, very well. We spoke many times about our ability to want to continue to recruit and get speed at certain positions – not just the speed but get the numbers up at certain positions in recruiting.”
Prior to the game, Andersen said he sized up the way Ohio State looked at different positions, both physically and the number of players at each position.
“You watch them warm up and there’s groups, how they’re supposed to look,” Andersen said. “Their numbers of O-linemen, number of safeties, I look at all of that stuff when we play other people.”
The Badgers have some recruiting to do to reach that point, which is probably one reason Andersen put recruiting at such a high priority level this week, although he also said he likes the direction the team is going with this recruiting class.
And despite the obvious mistakes made by the Badgers in the game, they still were in it, with a chance to tie the game at the end, although it would have taken a 90-yard drive.
“Do I think we were overmatched?,” Andersen said. “No. There was give and take on both sides. It was definitely an interesting battle. I was impressed with the quarterback (Braxton Miller), I should say that. I need to say that. He’s a good football player and he’s very composed.
Andersen sounded upbeat as well about the mental state of his team.
"The message for them is to respect the process, understand we are 3-2, I get it, they know where we’re at, it’s not where we wanted (to be) at the beginning," he said. "But if they can just keep on battling and keep on fighting, I think they’re a very talented football team."