MADISON – Micah Kapoi knew the question is coming before it was even asked, and finally the sophomore offensive lineman has good news to report. Coming out of the bye week his injured left foot is feeling much better.
“I feel like I am 100 percent,” Kapoi said Tuesday. “I feel like I’m back where I was coming out of camp going into LSU week. I think this bye week especially helped me out getting away from football, staying off (my foot) a little bit and cutting back the last couple days. It’s feeling perfect.”
Beginning the season as the starting left guard, Kapoi was injured late in the first half of the season opener when he was rolled on by a LSU defender trying to make a tackle. He missed week two against Akron, made the start and grinded through against Georgia State and was only to be used in an emergency role the last two weekends.
His role for Saturday’s matchup against No.2 Ohio State (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) is still unknown to the masses at this point. Wisconsin lists left guard Michael Deiter and center Brett Connors as the starters entering this weekend, the position the pair have started the last two games. Kapoi is listed as the backup at left guard, right guard and center.
“Competition has been great for us,” Kapoi said. “I think it will make us better leading up to the game.”
Kapoi started 10 games a season ago (six at left guard, four at right guard) but still doesn’t believed he’s settled into a role yet. The same could be said for Wisconsin’s entire line, which has gone through 10 different combinations in the last 18 games.
“We’ve been this whole time trying to figure out the best use of our guys and our talents,” head coach Paul Chryst said. “That’s one thing last week helped a little bit with getting some guys hopefully a little bit more healthy that we can work on those combinations, settle in and then it’s about executing.”
Over the bye week, Wisconsin’s coaching staff broke down everything over the first five games of the season to give the linemen a look at the percentages, seeing what did work, what didn’t work, why it didn’t work and how to fix it. Kapoi said the biggest constant was inconsistency with player’s pad level, causing them to get pushed around in the trenches.
“We know where to get to, we knew who to get to, who to block and where our placement should be, but pad level got high on us,” Kapoi said, pointing to a lot of mistakes from the 14-7 loss at No.4 Michigan Oct.1. “That was the emphasis over this past week. These guys will get things done, but with pad level it’s so much easier.”
Few things have come easy against the Buckeyes’ front this season. Ohio State is ninth in the country in rush defense at 97.8 yards per game and are the only FBS team to not allow a rushing touchdown this season. UW was held to only 71 yards by a similar front in Michigan.
“They are big bodied guys,” Kapoi said. “They have some movement but not as much as Michigan State. They are a mixture of these last two teams. They have guys that will stand there and scrap and other guys that will move and get around you if you’re slow. We’ve got to be ready for that.”
Shelton the Mentor
Through five games, Wisconsin’s defense has given up 14 pass players of 20 yards or more. On nearly every one of those gains that have come against cornerback Sojourn Shelton or running mate Derrick Tindal, Shelton tries to give Tindal a poignant message before the next step.
“No matter what the score is or what time it is in the game, you’re good,” Shelton said of his message. “You’ve got to be able to put it behind you because it’s one of those positions where you let it linger around, next series, next play if it’s in not a touchdown, they could be coming right back at you. You’ve got to be able to move on to the next play and understand that this position you’re going to give up some stuff here and there. You just have to be able to block that out and keep it rolling.”
Set to make his 43rd career start Saturday, Shelton preaches from experience. He burst on to the scene four years ago as a true freshman, intercepting four passes and playing confident and fearless in tough environments, including at No.4 Ohio State. Over the next two years he suffered from lapses, dropped interceptions and critical penalties.
Now with his career rapidly coming to a close, Shelton is back on the upswing. He registered a critical interception at Michigan State – his first of the season – that set up a touchdown, recovered a fumble and is tied with Tindal for the team lead with five pass breakups.
Not only is he back playing at a high level, Shelton – the only returning starter in the secondary - is helping bring along a young group of cornerbacks and grooming them as his replacements.
“He spends time with the younger guys and you see him make a concerted effort to help guys, coach them and talk to them about things he’s gone through,” Chryst said. “I think that he’s benefited from what (defensive backs coach Jim Leonhard) has been able to give to him. I think all of them in the secondary have. It’s kind of fun to see that maturation … I really have thought Soj has made the most of this year.”
Shelton was one of the first players to find Tindal after Michigan receiver Amara Darboh beat him for a 46-yard touchdown that was the deciding factor in the Wolverines’ 14-7 win two weeks ago. It was the longest play that resulted in a touchdown for UW this season.
Tindal was down afterwards but Shelton has seen the confidence in his teammate return. How does he know?
“Because at his position you have no other option,” Shelton said. “It’s just what it is. I think overall as you get older and you mature, that’s something that you develop.”
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer on Wisconsin, who he calls “outstanding.”
"The typical Wisconsin. I think it goes back to Coach Alvarez and what he's built up there. I think Coach Chryst -- I don't know him very well, but I can push play and see it's one of the best coached teams in the United States of America. Very good players. They have their niche. Average size is 6-6 or 6-8 on the offensive line, 315 pounds. I think that's what it was two years ago, and it's just consistent. They have an excellent running back, very efficient pass game.
"And then on defense, they're outstanding. They're what they've been. It's amazing that they've had coach transition. They've changed defensive coordinators and it's a very similar defense. It's Wisconsin's defense. I like that. I like the fact that we change coordinators on offense, it's Ohio State's offense, so Wisconsin you've got to give the leadership a lot of credit. One of the best teams in America."