Published August 30, 2013
MADISON, Wis. – Gary Andersen plans to keep things simple for his debut at No. 23 Wisconsin.
The new coach didn't want his face on the cover of the Badgers' game day magazine for Saturday's season opener against Massachusetts. He has no special pregame routine.
And when the players run on to the Camp Randall Stadium field, Andersen intends to be at the back of the line next to defensive end Pat Muldoon.
"And I said, 'Pat, that's just like you to be in the back here, you don't like the bright lights and all that stuff.' He said, 'No, Coach, I come out last,'" Andersen said this week in recounting a recent conversation with Muldoon. "Now there's going to be two of us. We'll come out together at the end of it, the two of us."
Drama surrounded the departure of predecessor Bret Bielema to Arkansas. The new lead Badger is tough but low-key.
"I don't have rituals or superstitions," Andersen told reporters. "Just line them up and let them go play."
The Minutemen provide perhaps the perfect opponent for someone making his debut coaching for a Big Ten program. UMass is a major college toddler after finishing 1-11 in 2012, its rookie year in the FBS.
UMass gave up more than 40 points a game last year. Top running back Jordan Broadnax is out for Saturday with a knee injury. Senior tight end Rob Blanchflower (43 catches, 464 yards in 2012) will also miss the game with an undisclosed ailment.
This does not bode well for the Minutemen.
Still, the goal doesn't change for coach Charley Molnar.
"It's to go out there to win a football game. We're certainly not going out there with any other thought in mind," Molnar said. "We are going out there to play our very best and play as close to perfect football as we can."
That's about the simplest way to put it for the Minutemen to succeed in a hostile environment, against a team eager to make a good impression on its new head coach. Wisconsin finished 8-6 last season, including a third consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl.
This year, the Badgers are debuting new schemes on both sides of the ball. Perhaps the biggest "drama" of the afternoon will be the official debut of Wisconsin's starting quarterback. Andersen didn't plan on publicly unveiling either sophomore Joel Stave or sixth-year senior Curt Phillips as his starter until his selection jogs onto the field Saturday afternoon.
Stave, a former walk-on, appeared to have the edge during a brief portion of practice open to media this week. He started five games last year, leading the Big Ten in pass efficiency (149.6), before being sidelined for the year by a broken clavicle.
"It just makes you really take everything very seriously, and you want to make sure you're doing the right thing," Stave said. "Make sure you're not only learning from your reps but from the other guys' reps."
Tight end Jacob Pederson seemed to think that Stave was the guy.
"I think the coaches went with their gut instinct and I know Curt will prepare every day," Pederson said. "If something happens, I know that he'll be able to step in in a heartbeat and lead this team."
Then, Pederson hedged.
"Whichever way . I don't know," he said. "Did they announce which one was going to play? Both of them are still getting reps, it's just so neck-in-neck. I thought they announced it."
If the passing game trips up, the quarterback can also hand the ball off to running backs James White and Melvin Gordon, who combined for more than 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns last season backing up star Montee Ball, now with the NFL's Denver Broncos.
At UMass, there's optimism about quarterback Mike Wegzyn following a good offseason and spring camp to get a firm grasp on the starting job. A redshirt sophomore, the 6-foot-5 Wegzyn completed nearly 53 percent of his 346 pass attempts last season for more than 1,800 yards, six touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
The Minutemen run a spread offense. They could be spread thin without Broadnax and Blanchflower.
"Any time you have the chance to play a Big Ten team, it's awfully exciting for the young men," Molnar said. "I know it's going to get loud and we will be playing a good football team, but that's what we are trying to do — measure ourselves against the best teams in the country."
Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP