Ludwig has Badger offense humming
MINNEAPOLIS—Gary Andersen knew what he wanted last winter when he went shopping for Wisconsin’s next offensive coordinator.
A coach who could adapt his schemes and philosophies to the talent at his disposal.
A coach who had proved his worth over time.
A coach who could teach and recruit.
Andersen appears to have gotten all he desired in Andy Ludwig because as UW (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) prepares to face host Minnesota (8-2, 4-2) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday the results are irrefutable.
UW is averaging 505.8 yards per game, ahead of the program record of 469.9 ypg set in 2011 when Russell Wilson led the offense.
UW is averaging 38.5 points per game, not too far off the No. 1 and No. 2 marks in program history—44.1 in 2011 and 41.5 in 2010.
The numbers posted so far this season are the result of collaboration among the coaches and execution by the players, but it appears Andersen’s call to hire Ludwig away from San Diego State was brilliant.
“He’s the most organized person that I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Andersen, who worked with Ludwig at Utah from 2005 through 2008. “His computer sits on his desk full of information … and then he fit the offense. That was probably the biggest thing, his ability to be able to adapt offenses like he did when he came to Utah and we didn’t have a tight end on the roster.
“We had to adjust to the spread offense, and he did a very, very good job in that time frame until he left. Then he went on and got back into the pro-style stuff and did a great job where he’s been. He can use the best kids around.”
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, who coached at Southern Illinois from 2001-07 and at Northern Illinois from 2008-10 before heading north the Twin Cities in 2011, is familiar with the UW program built by Barry Alvarez, tweaked by Bret Bielema and then turned over to Andersen when Bielema left for Arkansas.
“Offensively they haven’t changed, and they’re very good,” Kill said.
Despite a lack of depth, offensive line coach T.J. Woods has built a versatile and productive unit. The line, with the help of fullback Derek Watt and four capable tight ends, has paved the way for UW to rush for 307.9 yards per game. That is on pace to break the program record of 287.5, set in 1974.
The wide receivers, under the tutelage of Chris Beatty, have become tenacious downfield blockers.
That has resulted in 35 runs of 20 yards or longer. UW leads the nation or is tied for the No. 1 mark in runs of 20-plus yards (35), 30-plus yards (20), 40-plus yards (13), 50-plus yards (nine) 60-plus yards (seven), 70-plus yards (six) and 80-plus yards (two).
Tailbacks Melvin Gordon (1,306 yards, 8.4-yard average), James White (1,156 yards, 6.8-yard average) and Corey Clement (515 yards, 7.8-yard average) have at times taken advantage of the blocking and other times made yards on their own.
UW leads the nation in yards per carry (7.01), which is the second-highest mark among any FBS team since the 2009 Nevada team (7.39-yard average), which featured quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
“I like it personally better this year,” tight end Jacob Pedersen said, referring to the schemes of Ludwig, who replaced Matt Canada after last season. “I think I am in better position for my blocks. And I think guys are executing a lot better.”
Quarterback Joel Stave has baffled fans with a handful of errant throws each game. However, he has managed the offense, executed run-checks, completed 63.1 percent of his passes for 194.8 yards per game and has twice as many touchdown passes (16) as interceptions (eight).
Most important, he generally has gotten the ball into the hands of the unit’s playmakers.
Jared Abbrederis (54 receptions, 849 yards) needs one reception to match his best at UW.
Pedersen (27-392) needs three receptions to tie his best at UW and has already surpassed his previous high for yards (356).
White (31-257) needs three receptions to match his total from his first three seasons.
Stave has completed 27 passes of 20 yards or more—17 to wide receivers, seven to tight ends and three to running backs.
“I knew we had a lot of explosive guys on our team,” White said. “I think we have more team speed than we’ve had in the past few years.
“And coach Ludwig is going to get the ball to those guys in space. And when we do that we have to try create explosive plays.”
Andersen had a brief internal dialogue before he offered Ludwig the job.
“No. 1 for me,” he said, “I always ask myself: ‘Does he care about kids?’”
“Is he a good recruiter?” Andersen continued.
“If he can do that, he’s got a great chance,” Andersen said. “And he’s obviously a proven coordinator.”