Two Badgers going home...to Minnesota
For junior wide receivers Isaac Anderson and David Gilreath, a couple of Minneapolis natives, it’s just another “home” game on the schedule.
“It’s not a road trip for me. I’m going home,” Gilreath said. “It feels good to go home and play in front of all your family and friends.
“It’s fun to be able to show off how much I have grown in living color. It’s going to be a big game on top of that.”
Big game doesn’t begin to describe what will take place Saturday between the Badgers (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) and Minnesota (3-1, 1-0) in the first conference game in Gophers’ new TCF Bank Stadium—marking the first time football has been outside and on campus in Minnesota in 28 years.
At the same time, there is something about seeing the maroon and gold on the opposing sideline that brings out the best in Anderson and Gilreath.
Two years ago in UW’s 41-34 victory at the Metrodome, Gilreath had 226 total return yards, including a career-best 107 punt return yards on only two punts.
“I had a pretty big return game,” he said. “That was my biggest one thus far.”
A year ago, Anderson was a quiet producer in the Wisconsin offense, catching only nine passes for 99 yards through the team’s first 10 games. That changed against Minnesota, as Anderson caught a career high six receptions for 114 yards and was big component in the Badgers’ 35-32 victory at Camp Randall Stadium.
More importantly, it was a huge psychological boost, as Anderson had been forced to redshirt after being plagued by lingering hamstring issues.
“You know you have the ability to do things, but you aren’t 100 percent healthy and you can’t play to the best of your abilities,” Anderson said. “That Minnesota game was a breakout game for me. It showed me that I can do those things and is a testament to hard work.”
Meanwhile, the two Badgers are parlaying that Minnesota momentum into success this year, having combined for 599 all-purpose yards in Wisconsin’s four wins.
Anderson has been UW’s big-play threat, catching the Badgers’ two longest pass plays of the season. Gilreath, who has battling stress fractures in both his feet, which affects his burst and cuts, was a big reason the Badgers had an average starting field position at their 38-yard line last week against Michigan State.
“It seems like we’re clicking everywhere right now,” Gilreath said. “Everyone is getting involved from the running game to the passing game. You don’t know where the ball is going to go … and it looks good right now.”
The balance of the offense is a credit to junior quarterback Scott Tolzien, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week after throwing a career-high four touchdown passes against the Spartans. He leads the conference in passing efficiency and has completed passes to nine different receivers.
“We’re developing a real good relationship with him,” Anderson said of Tolzien, his roommate during the summer before their freshman year. “His nose is always in the playbook, and we have a lot more confidence in our receiving corps.”
And the Badgers may not every bit of it against a revived Minnesota team.
Not only must the Badgers withstand the amped-up Gophers, who haven’t won Paul Bunyan’s Axe since 2003, but Anderson will have to overcome a father decked in Gopher garb. Anderson’s father, Melvin, played at Minnesota and left the school with the fourth-most receiving yardage (1,265) in school history.
A year after sitting at Camp Randall in a maroon sweatshirt, Melvin Anderson will be on the field, wearing one of his old Gopher jerseys and a button of Isaac.
“It’s a little competition between us, but he’s supporting me,” Anderson said. “It’s a fun way to bond with your father. It’s going to be a great opportunity to go home and perform like I did last year.”