MADISON – After preparing for and going against a pro-style offense for weeks, the University of Wisconsin had to suddenly flip the script for week two of the college football season.
But while Akron will spread the field against the Badgers and do more isolation plays than LSU, Wisconsin’s secondary – save for some different personnel packages – doesn’t expect much of a different approach.
“It doesn’t change our energy,” junior cornerback Derrick Tindal said. “We’re going in there with the same mentality of winning as the last game. We don’t want to give up passes. Obviously it’s going to happen, but that’s the mentality we go with and what we expect.”
One of the main question marks entering the 2016 season was how the secondary was going to adjust to new roles in wake of three seniors graduating. They past the first test with flying colors.
In Wisconsin’s season-opening win over LSU, the Badgers’ faced 21 pass attempts from Tigers quarterback Brandon Harris. The result was only 12 completions and 131 yards, an average of 6.2 yards per completion, and a pair of interceptions.
Tindal and senior cornerback Sojourn Shelton flipped back and forth between senior Travin Dural and junior Malachi Dupre, two players considered N.F.L. prospects. The Wisconsin duo held them to a combined eight catches for 74 yards and the Tigers’ only offensive touchdown. Most importantly, neither of them having a reception over 20 yards.
Shelton was active and aggressive, despite being credited with only one pass breakup, and Tindal – who was making his first start at corner - ended the first half by ripping a near completion out of Dupre’s hands for his first career interception.
“I was so excited because not only do we know (we’re good), but people know,” Tindal said. “The fans know that we aren’t going to let y’all down. We’re going to come out here every weekend and we’re going to go hard.”
That trait will be put to the test in tomorrow’s home opener against Akron (1-0) at Camp Randall Stadium (2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network). Last weekend the Zips threw for 425 yards in their 47-24 win over Football Championship Subdivision opponent VMI, spreading the ball around to six different targets behind the six touchdown passes of quarterback Thomas Woodson.
The passing game was a big part of Akron’s 8-5 season that finished with a victory in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, as 192.9 of the Zips’ 357.1 yards per game came through the air.
“I thought those (secondary) guys competed really hard last week,” Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. “Really proud of them, and I think each of them is going to continue to get better. I’m excited for them. They’re probably excited that the ball is going to be up the air because that makes it a chance to go make some plays.”
One of Akron’s dual receiving threats isn’t a stranger to Tindal. After just one week of football, senior JoJo Natson is No. 1 in the country in receiving touchdowns (3) and in scoring (18.0). Junior Jerome Lane is No. 2 in receiving yards (196), No.4 in receiving touchdowns (2) and No. 6 in receptions (10).
Natson – who sat out last season after transferring from Utah State - and Tindal were teammates at Boyd Anderson High School.
“I know he’s a very quick guy, probably way quicker than the two receivers I played against last week,” Tindal said. “Quick routes and when he catch the ball he can get very dynamic with it. He’s very dynamic.”
Switching from linebacker to receiver during 2015, Lane retains some of that weight at 220 pounds. A year ago Lane was second in team receiving with 39 receptions for a team-best 782 yards and team-best eight touchdowns.
“Unlike the receivers last week, with his big body, he’s actually going to use his body,” Tindal said. “He’ll body you out, go up top.”
With students back in class this week, Tindal says players like himself have been congratulated all week about one of the biggest nonconference wins in school history. He knows that if the secondary doesn’t do its job in the home opener, it will all be for naught.
“We do a good job going to the next game,” he said. “We won against LSU, and that’s great, but it’s over with. We’re not changing our approach to the game. We’re going into the game, we want to win, we want to dominate on the field on defense and we’re not changing anything.”