Mixing up the offense
Wisconsin looks for ways to complement power running game
MADISON, Wis. -- Coach Gary Andersen is thinking about spicing up the Wisconsin offense this fall.
Fans of Wisconsin's power running game need not worry -- things aren't changing that much in Madison. Running back Melvin Gordon remains the star attraction.
But Andersen would like to give opposing defenses something more to think about given the attention expected to be heaped on 1,600-yard rusher Gordon. Wisconsin isn't going vogue and turning into a spread team, but Andersen said he's looking at working in "dynamics" of the spread as part of the offense.
"We have pieces of that ... and they did it with Russell," Andersen said in a recent interview at Camp Randall Stadium, referring to former Badgers quarterback Russell Wilson. He played under Andersen's predecessor, Bret Bielema.
Power and zone inside runs are still very much in the playbook. The fly sweep -- perhaps Gordon's signature play -- isn't going anywhere.
But spread looks may offer more options running outside the tackles. Or maybe Wisconsin runs more play action off run formations; or use more spread run and pass plays out of different personnel groups.
But it is one thing to have a future NFL quarterback like Wilson -- who won the Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks -- operating your offense.
This season's Badgers will likely be led by either Tanner McEvoy, a quarterback-turned-safety who returned to quarterback in spring ball, or incumbent Joel Stave, whose 2013 season ended with a shoulder injury at the Capital One Bowl.
The injury lingered into March and limited Stave in the spring. Andersen said this week that Stave returned for summer workouts and had pronounced himself ready to go.
If Wisconsin sticks with Stave, Andersen hopes to see improvement from last season's inconsistent campaign. Stave had nine touchdowns and seven interceptions in his last six games, while defenses focused more on the running game during that stretch.
The regular-season finale at Camp Randall Stadium exemplified the ups and downs in a 31-24 loss to Penn State. Stave threw for 339 yards and three touchdowns, but also had three interceptions. Gordon and backfield mate James White were each held to 91 yards or less on the ground.
White is gone, as is top receiver Jared Abbrederis. Injuries hit the Badgers hard this spring at receiver, which is relatively young or inexperienced.
But Wisconsin has experience returning on the offensive line, along with Gordon and Corey Clement at running back. At quarterback, McEvoy's strength lies with his mobility.
"Doesn't matter who the quarterback is, we want you ... to account for that quarterback," Andersen said.
The broad goal appears to be keeping defenses thinking and taking more time to prepare for different things during the week. It would ideally give Gordon -- who is a threat to score on any carry -- more opportunities for big plays.