Crooks proves a proper fill-in

True freshman pressed into playing time following Reggie Cribbs' injury

COLUMBUS—Andy Crooks was put on the spot for his most extensive action with the first-team defense Saturday following an injury to starting mike linebacker Reggie Cribbs.

"He was in the heat of the battle there," defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. "Reggie just tweaked himself but he's okay."

"There was a swing pass (Crooks) missed, there was some things that he's going to work himself through and he really came on. The thing I appreciate about him was he was a little bit banged up out there but he persevered, walked through it during the course of the week and he came out there and did some good things today."

Cribbs left Saturday's game in the second quarter and later walked the sidelines wearing a walking boot on his lower left leg and foot.

Crooks served his role admirably, making just one tackle but providing a capable presence in the middle.

"He's really got a good feel for the game and understands football, very smart, very conscientious, everything that he does to put himself in the position to get where he is right now is because he does things right all the time," Bielema said. "He's got open ears, big eyes, he wants to come in, he wants to run, he wants to listen."

Crooks has been pushing Cribbs for playing time. He debuted at mike in three plays against Arizona and played about 15 at mike against Penn State. Cribbs held down the position versus Illinois.

Watkins returns to nickel

LaMarr Watkins returned to the nickel defense in the second half Saturday after missing three games with an injury.

"I kind of wanted to work him in," Bielema said. "I wish he was a little bit more active on certain plays but he's been a guy who's been coming along pretty good and it's a way to [Dontez Sanders] out of there. Tez can hit the circuit barrier if I try to overload him too much.

"Reggie was actually the first nickel backer and when he went down, LaMarr came in there and did a nice job right there."

Also on the injury front: Booker Stanley, ailed by a turf toe, did not travel with the Badgers this weekend… Freshman tailback Jamil Walker suited up but did not play.

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