MADISON – The University of Wisconsin football team started with a patchwork secondary against Nebraska and the unit only got more torn and frayed in the Badgers’ 41-24 victory.
It looks like UW (4-1, 2-0 Big Ten) will continue to sew things together on defense when the Badgers take on Michigan (5-1, 3-0) in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Saturday.
UW is ranked No. 10 in the Amway coaches’ poll and 15th by the Associated Press. Michigan is ranked 13th by the coaches and No. 12 by the AP.
The preliminary injury report on Monday listed UW cornerbacks Travian Blaylock (right leg), Deron Harrell (upper body), and Caeser Williams (left leg) as questionable for the game against the Wolverines.
Harrell suffered a head injury against Nebraska. Blaylock and Williams did not play against the Cornhuskers.
In addition, cornerback Faion Hicks has been playing with a thumb injury and safety D’Cota Dixon needed medical attention on his foot late in the victory over Nebraska.
Throw in that starting safety Scott Nelson will sit out the first half against Michigan after his targeting ejection and the Badgers’ defensive backs are in scramble mode again.
“Our whole approach is, ‘How do you help them grow and how do you help them come together?’ ” UW head coach Paul Chryst said. “It takes individuals to be at their best for the unit to be at its best. And everyone is at a different point in their career.”
The secondary certainly wasn’t at its best against Nebraska.
Cornhuskers quarterback Adrian Martinez threw for 384 yards and two touchdowns and wide receiver J.D. Spielman had nine catches for 209 yards.
“Confidence is to be earned,” Chryst said of his defensive backs. “They have to have something to fall back on and trust. And that’s when you have to trust the techniques that are being taught.
“And you have to trust that the other people around you are doing their job. And those are all areas that we need to grow and get better at.”
Dixon was in a walking boot on Monday. He landed awkwardly after defending a pass against Nebraska wide receiver Stanley Morgan Jr.
“I expect to play,” Dixon said. “Never 100 percent during the season. No one ever is.”
Sophomore Eric Burrell will start at safety in place of Nelson.
“Eric played well (against Nebraska),” Dixon said. “He’s smart. He’s a good football player. Obviously, get more reps, you get more comfortable adjusting to the games.
“He’s a sticker. He’s a hard hitter. That’s one thing, he throws his head in there. I feel like he’s reliable. He knows what he’s doing.”
With all the shuffling of cornerbacks, freshman Rachad Wildgoose got on the field for 52 snaps and acquitted himself well.
“He jumped right in there,” Chryst said. “Thought he did some good. There’s nothing like getting meaningful snaps. Like anything, there’s some good to build on yet he can continue to get better.”
Dixon, a senior, will counsel the young secondary players before Saturday’s game.
“Trust what you see,” Dixon said when asked what he will tell Wildgoose and Burrell. “Trust what you know. Trust the game plan. Trust the coaches and trust the guys around you.
“That’s something that can help you maximize your own potential as a player, when you trust the people around you it makes you play that much faster. Just have good eyes and don’t freak out if they come out with a different formation or anything like that.”
It will help the beleaguered secondary if UW can generate some pass rush on Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson.
UW defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilt exited the Nebraska game with an ankle injury and is listed as questionable.
Outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel (right leg) is also questionable, but he played more against the Cornhuskers after being on the field for only a handful of snaps against Iowa.
“Hopefully he continues to progress,” Chryst said. “And as everyone knows, it sure helps your pass coverage when you get pressure on the quarterback.
“(Michigan has) a really good offensive line, the quarterback can extend and make plays. That’s not an easy task but that’s certainly something, if we can get that going and create some pressure, not necessarily even sacks but just making the quarterback uncomfortable.
“Any defense is better that way.”
Recruiting update: The Badgers got some good recruiting news over the weekend when 2019 tight end Clay Cundiff switched his verbal commitment to UW.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Cundiff, who plays at Bishop Carroll High School in Wichita, Kan., initially committed to Kansas in June.
Cundiff is the second tight end and 14th player to commit to UW’s 2019 class.