It's Hard Not To Like Ike

Assistant coach Kerry Cooks has preached confidence to his defensive backs. Jack Ikegwuonu has fit right in, and the entire unit is having fun shutting down their opponents' aerial attack.

Attitude is everything.

It is one of those sayings that you have probably heard since elementary school, and after Wisconsin beat up on Minnesota 48-12 Saturday, it was the same old story for the Badger secondary.

"I really like the way Kerry Cooks has established a certain demeanor in those guys," UW head coach Bret Bielema said. "Those guys have a personality about them and they're able to go out there and have success."

The attitude translated into just 94 passing yards from the Minnesota offense as quarterback Brian Cupito went 13-of-28 and threw one interception.

Members of the Badgers' defensive backfield were able to sum up the Cooks mentality in a single word: confidence.

"We're just playing with confidence," senior safety Joe Stellmacher said. "When you're fundamentally sound, using the proper technique, you can play fast and play with confidence."

"It's just confidence," sophomore cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu said. "You've got to have a swagger and you've got to have cockiness to play in the secondary. We're trying to go out there and make (Cooks) happy every day."

Ikegwuonu undoubtedly made the coaching staff happy Saturday, and he did not waste any time doing it.

The Madison native took the wind out of the Gophers' sails when he scooped up a fumble and sprinted 50 yards for a touchdown no the just the seventh play from scrimmage. It was the first fumble recovery of his career and the first fumble return for a touchdown since Scott Starks' famous scamper against Purdue in 2004.

"I saw … the light," Ikegwuonu said. "It was a great play by Chapman and just being in the right place at the right time."

That was the theme of the day for Ikegwuonu—he just always seemed to be in the right place.

Minnesota wide receiver Logan Payne came into the game averaging 5.17 receptions per game, good for third in the Big Ten. He was fourth in the conference with more than 73 receiving yards per outing.

On Saturday, matched up mostly with Ikegwuonu, Payne had just two catches for six yards.

"He's a great athlete … he's fast, he's big and he's a big-play guy," Ikegwuonu said. "I really took it upon myself, not to really eliminate him from the ballgame, but to really frustrate him and take him out of the game psychologically."

Ikegwuonu only made two tackles on the day, but that is all he had to make. The two completions that came his way went for three and eight yards, respectively.

On top of that, he finished with three pass breakups, including one that showed he is not a player that will give up. With less than one minute remaining, the Gophers faced a fourth down and goal and tried to get the ball to Payne, but Ikegwuonu was there to break up the pass attempt.

Coming into the season, some of Ikegwuonu's teammates were touting him as perhaps the best cornerback in the Big Ten. While it sounded like teammate-speak then, they may have a legitimate argument after he has proven himself against the likes of Payne and Michigan's Mario Manningham.

"Every week he's getting better and better," Stellmacher said. "He's really developed into a lock-down corner and when you can have one of those lock-down corners … we can look elsewhere knowing the Jack's going to lock his man down."

One thing is for sure, Ikegwuonu certainly is not playing like a 20-year old sophomore.

"I have to establish myself as a legitimate player," he said. "I have to realize … the position I'm in and establish myself as a veteran player."

It is those comments that show why Ikegwuonu is shining under the themes of Cooks. The sophomore already had a confidence and swagger about him when he showed up on campus. And while players like that can sometimes suffer from an inflated head, all he has done is prove himself worthy of that mentality with his play on the field.

Seven games into the season, Ikegwuonu leads the Badgers with seven pass breakups, is fourth with 18 solo tackles, has come up with two turnovers and has forced another.

With his help, the Badgers have allowed just two touchdown passes all year, both of them against Michigan. Wisconsin is, by far, the best passing defense in the Big Ten, allowing just 123.1 yards per game, 50 yards less than second-place Illinois.

And Ikegwuonu and the defense are having fun doing it.

"I look at it as a way to have fun," Ikegwuonu said. "As long as we're having fun, everything's going well."


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