ARLINGTON, Texas- It’s a common phrase in sport that any reserve is one play away from being called upon to play a major role for his team. But of all the injuries that could occur for No.20 Wisconsin, the Badgers could ill afford to lose senior safety Michael Caputo, much less have him for only three plays. Ruled out after suffering a head injury on the first series, No.3 Alabama picked a part the middle of Wisconsin’s defense, allowing 17 of the Crimson Tide’s 66 players to go for at least 10 yards in a 35-17 Alabama victory at AT&T Stadium Saturday night.
“You don’t want any of your players getting injured,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said. “Talking to Mike even during (the game), he said it’s hard on him. He loves this team and loves playing … Hopefully he’ll rebound, and he means a lot to this team. But those decisions are pretty easy.”
It is hard to know how the game would be different if Wisconsin had the services of its three-year starter for more than a handful of minutes, or if he would have been able to make the tackles on Alabama junior running back Derrick Henry.
The series after Caputo was ruled out, Alabama marched 90 yards in only six plays and 2 minutes, 1 second and repeatedly attacked the middle of the defense that now included two inside linebackers and two safeties with a combined two previous collegiate starts. Starting with a pair of 22-yard pass completions over the middle, Alabama senior Jake Coker went 4-for-4 on the drive for 55 yards before Henry busted a 37-yard touchdown run up the middle, set up by a miss tackle by nose guard Conor Sheehy.
“I think certainly (Caputo is) one of our better players, an emotional leader, our captain,” said Chryst. “Our guys stepped up. We didn’t go to a whole different defensive scheme or anything like that. But, I mean, you want to play a very good team with all your guys. We weren’t able to do that.”Wisconsin tried to continue to battle on with sophomore D’Cota Dixon replacing Caputo, but Dixon called the game a big wake up call, especially he only played in three nonconference games last season before having season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum.
“I just had to keep playing,” said Dixon, who registered eight tackles and one pass breakup. “I learned a lot from this game, I’m a little sore in my shoulder. I didn’t think I did well. I feel like I could have been a lot more communicative with my teammates.”
Missed communication combined with poor tackling allowed Alabama to dictate the speed of the game, creating a whirlwind for the Badgers. Coker combined to go 7-for-9 for 126 yards in Alabama’s other three scoring drives that he was on the field for, a product of a faster tempo that the UW defense couldn’t adapt to quick enough.
“It was pretty tough; they were going pace on offense so it went by fast,” said Dixon. “I don’t think it was just me. I think it was the whole defense. We were having a hard time communicating, looking over back to the coach, getting the calls out, and communicating it with everybody else. By the time we got the call, they were hiking the football.”
With his helmet removed by the training staff, Caputo did his best to coach, cheer and encourage Dixon and UW’s defense. In the end, he only could do so much.
“I could tell he was real disappointed,” said Dixon. “Caputo is a great leader. I’m thankful that he is still here so I can learn from him … We have to move forward and learn from this game.”