INDIANAPOLIS- A decade ago, the current head coaches of the two participants in the Big Ten Championship Game shared a sideline and together helped lead the 2004 Utah Utes to an undefeated season.
Gary Andersen, the current Wisconsin coach, was an assistant under then-Utah coach Urban Meyer as the Utes became the first “BCS bowl buster” as they defeated Pittsburgh in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, 35-7, to cap a perfect season.
Andersen characterized his time coaching for Meyer as a “great experience.”
“Coach Meyer let us do what we wanted to do and what we did in the past. We were very successful, had a great year,” Andersen said Friday. “I learned a lot, a lot from Coach Meyer in that year in a lot of different ways. I put that into a lot of my philosophies as a head football coach.”
Meyer reiterated Andersen’s comments, adding that while he did not know Andersen well when he hired him, that changed very quickly.
“I love Gary. Gary is a guy that I only knew briefly when we hired him. By the time mid‑season rolled around, he was one of my top guys, a guy I would close the door and lean on quite frequently,” Meyer said Friday. “Obviously one of the best in the business at what he does.”
Meyer’s high praise of Andersen is well deserved, as the Wisconsin coach has led the Badgers to back-to-back nine win seasons in his first two years in Madison, Wis.
A defensive-minded coach, Andersen has led a Badger defense that ranks second in the country statistically. Andersen was the defensive line coach during the 2004 season under Meyer.
The Badger defense is something that worries Meyer, especially heading into the game with redshirt-sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones making his first career start.
“Very rugged defense. Very multiple. They blitz a lot. You can tell they’re very intelligent, well‑coached,” Meyer said. “They do a lot of stuff. If you do a lot of stuff and not make mistakes, you’re intelligent and well‑coached.”
On the other side of the ball, Andersen said he does not expect the OSU offense to do much differently with Jones at the helm.
“You look at it, as a defensive staff, Coach Aranda and his staff basically came to the conclusion that this man is very, very capable of running their offense, doing a great job of putting the ball into the hands of their playmakers,” Andersen said. “We don’t expect the offense to change a bit, quite frankly.”
Meyer said all week leading up to the game that Jones will have an opportunity to play well due to the playmakers Andersen mentioned, and Meyer’s comments did not change on Friday.
“He’s (Jones) prepared very well. Tuesday is a rugged day for anyone in practice. But I saw the improvement we needed to see on Wednesday. I made it at least a couple hundred times since the beginning of the week that the quarterback is a product of those around him,” Meyer said. “He still obviously has to execute and do his things. The guys had a very good practice around him as well, starting with the offensive line. I’m very confident in Cardale.”
With Jones making his first career start, Andersen said he hopes that his defense can rattle the Glenville High School product.
“One of our goals is to frustrate a quarterback, put a quarterback in a position where he doesn’t feel comfortable, let him understand that we’re going to be around him,” Andersen said. “Regardless, if that happens or not, that’s always a goal.”
Whether or not the Badgers defense can get to Jones might not be the biggest storyline of the game, however.
Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon leads the nation in rushing yards with 2,260 and despite sending in Jones for his first start, Meyer said he was more worried about the Heisman candidate for the Badgers.
“Yeah, number one is tackling this ball carrier. That’s our number one concern, is getting this guy on the ground,” Meyer said. “Then number two is making sure that we are protecting our quarterback. They blitz a lot. Very complicated defense.”
Regardless of what the worries are on the field, Meyer said come kick off, his relationship with Andersen will change.
“Gary and I are great friends. We’ll always be great friends. Great respect for each other. Great family people. Our families get along. That will never change,” Meyer said. “For 60 minutes tomorrow we’re going to be competitors.”
The Badgers and Buckeyes are scheduled to kick off Saturday at 8:17 p.m. from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.