MADISON - Playing in a $1.3 billion N.F.L. stadium with a 25,000 square foot video board, not to mention opening the season against the third-ranked team in the country, is enough to give even the most seasoned veteran butterflies. Imagine what all the newbies on the Wisconsin roster were thinking Saturday night.
That’s one of the reasons why junior cornerback Sojourn Shelton heaped plenty of praise on sophomore safety , who saw his role expand in the early moments when starter Michael Caputo was ruled out with a head injury.
“I’m extremely proud of D’Cota and how he stepped in,” said Shelton. “I probably wouldn’t know what to do coming against an elite team like Alabama. It’s easy to do in practice, but when the real bullets are flying, you just got to be able to keep it rolling, and he did that. I’m extremely proud of him. There are a lot of things that he can build off of.”
Dixon was scheduled to play a supplementary role in the Badgers’ 35-17 loss to the Crimson Tide but jumped in head first on the game’s fourth play after Caputo took a knee from the 242-pound running back Derrick Henry to the helmet, causing him to become disoriented to the point where he wandered towards Alabama’s huddle.
Dixon admitted his head was spinning but held his own, finishing with eight tackles that was third-best on the team. He also had a pass breakup.
“It was a big wake up call,” said Dixon. “I didn’t know what to really think initially when he got hurt. I thought he was stung a little bit and would come back in but it turns out he was out and I had to step it up a little bit. With this being my first game it was fast, but I adjusted as it went on.”
Wisconsin trotted out nine players (and five starters) who competed in their first collegiate game, not a huge surprise considering 46.5 percent of the Badgers’ roster is comprised of freshmen. Dixon isn’t technically a freshman but playing in only three non-conference games a season ago due to labrum surgery doesn’t exactly earn him the “veteran” label.
“At first I was a little nervous but as the game went on I got more adjusted and comfortable,” said Dixon. “Like I said I just had to keep playing.”
Part of the comfort level was adjusting to the speed of the game, a task that grew tougher once Alabama sped up the tempo. While things were going by him a mile a minute, Dixon relied on Caputo, who spent a lot of time coaching him on the sideline.
“It was the toughest game I’ve ever been a part of as a player, especially with how fast the game goes,” said Dixon. “Caputo was helping me a lot with all of that on the sidelines, which was a huge help.”
The status of Caputo will be determined later this week as Wisconsin prepares for its home opener against Miami (OH). If he’s unable to go, Dixon will likely get his first career start, putting himself in position to be a steady contributor after an impressive fall camp.
“He’s a very tough kid,” said Shelton. “He had a really good camp and from there on out he’s been building. As a defense, as a teammate and everybody on the team, that’s what we want him to continue to keep doing. I’m positive he’ll be able to do that.”