University of Wisconsin football coach Gary Andersen still treasures the advice he got a few years back from former Brigham Young coach LaVell Edwards.
Andersen was in his second year as head coach at Utah State in 2010 when he brought Edwards into preseason camp to spend a couple of days and speak to the team.
“I’ll never forget the first thing LaVell told me when we walked in my office. He said, ‘You have to find a way to win at home if you’re ever going to turn a program around,’ ” Andersen said on Monday.
“That was the first thing and it has stuck in my brain. It’s still in there, forever.”
Andersen wasn’t turning a program around when took over the UW job last December, but the advice still applies.
No. 21 UW (6-2 overall, 4-1 in the Big Ten Conference) will play its first home game in 28 days when it faces BYU (6-2), on Saturday. The only longer gap between home games was a 35-day stretch in 1934.
“Very excited about the opportunity to come back and be in Camp Randall again,” Andersen said. “Seems like it’s been forever since we’ve been here.”
The Badgers play three of their final four regular-season games at home. Andersen spent considerable time at his weekly press conference talking about the importance of the home crowd against the Cougars, who had won five straight prior to last week’s bye. The stretch included an impressive 37-20 victory over Boise State.
BYU runs a fast-paced offense that tied a Football Bowl Subdivision record with 115 plays and set a school record with 41 first downs in a 47-46 win over Houston on Oct. 19.
“Our crowd can do a lot,” Andersen said. “I know they will do a lot to hamper (the Cougars’) opportunities to play as fast as they want, because it gets loud and it’s hard for them to be able to get the communication they normally get, from the snap count to getting personnel on the field to the communication that verbally has to take place (before the snap).
“A loud crowd causes some problems with pace. I’m sure we’ll be all jacked up to try and take them out of the game, or at least give us a little bit of an advantage there at times.”
This might be UW’s best remaining chance to make a statement when it comes to the Bowl Championship Series standings. The Badgers came in at No. 24 on Sunday for the second straight week. They must finish in the top 14 to be eligible for an at-large berth in a BCS bowl game.
“Honestly, I’ve felt like we’ve made a few statements,” senior safety Dezmen Southward said. “I don’t think you make a statement in a game; I think you make a statement in a season. Our entire body of work will be our statement when it’s all said and done. You just have to keep working toward that.”
That’s easier with a favorable home schedule. UW is 4-0 at home this season and has outscored opponents 169-16, giving up only one touchdown. The competition has been suspect, with three Football Bowl Subdivision opponents — UMass, Purdue and Northwestern — who are a combined 6-20. Tennessee Tech, from the Football Championship Subdivision, is 3-7.
Still, there’s no debating the Badgers are tough to beat at home. Their 59-6 record since the start of the 2004 season is third-best in the nation over that span, trailing only Boise State and Oklahoma.
UW has won its past 28 games against non-conference opponents going back to a 23-5 loss to UNLV in 2003.
“It’s unbelievable. Yes, it’s definitely lived up to my expectations,” Andersen said of the home-field advantage. “It’s powerful. It can dictate tempo. Our kids build off of it. It helps them understand where they’re at in the game. It just gives them an extra boost, if you will, to be at home.”
It’s also an opportunity that’s dwindling away for the large group of seniors. That’s the point Andersen wanted to emphasize the most.
“We’ve got three more opportunities left, this month and forever, for this team to come and play in Camp Randall,” Andersen said.
Senior tight end Jacob Pedersen has not exactly been counting down his remaining days at UW, but it did come up in a couple of recent conversations.
“A couple times, talking to someone, it always ends with ‘one of your final games at Camp Randall,’ ” Pedersen said. “I’m like, ‘Wow, OK, this is starting to set in.’ ”
Andersen called it “the best venue in the country,” and said he sometimes looks around the stadium during a game, amazed at the setting.
“It takes me back two or three times every game, to sit back and look at it,” he said. “It’s a special opportunity to play in front of all of those people.”