Corner Control

Even though the Badgers have lost their starting and a backup cornerback, their third-string option isn't a bad option. Fifth-year senior and team captain Ben Strickland is ready to end his career with a bang.

TAMPA, Fla. - Ben Strickland says this is the most excited he's ever been before any football game.

Maybe that's because the Outback Bowl will be the UW senior cornerback's last game ever. But the fact that he will most likely be starting his second career game probably has more to do with it.

"For me, it's my last game, it's probably my last time playing football so I'm just trying to have fun as long as I can and savor each moment," Strickland said. "It's been a lot of fun, I'm pumped."

With starting cornerback Allen Langford already out for the season and back-up Aaron Henry suffering an injury at the beginning of bowl practices, the Badgers will likely turn to Strickland to fill the void.

UW defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz stopped short of naming Strickland the starter for the Outback Bowl as sophomore Josh Nettles and redshirt freshman Niles Brinkley are also in the mix.

However, Strickland has almost practiced exclusively with the No. 1 team in practices and Hankwitz can't deny the experience the fifth-year senior brings to the team as he has been a steady contributor to the team over the years.

"Ben obviously has an advantage with his experience," Hankwitz said. "He's played a lot of football, he's been on special teams, he started against Iowa a year ago, he's been in our five-defensive-back stuff. He's the leading candidate."

And Strickland says he's ready to step up.

He points back to last season's final regular season game where he started in place of the injured Langford and played well, and he's hoping he can do it again on New Year's Day.

However, Strickland has had somewhat of a setback.

In this season's final regular season game against Minnesota, Strickland injured his right hand. Since then, he has been wearing a big club in practice for precautionary reasons.

"It felt like I was carrying a dumbbell," he said.

Strickland just got the club taken off in Friday's practice and will be wearing a small cast on his hand for the game.

And with it off, Strickland says his hand — and his shoulder — feels much better. But he says he would be comfortable in the line-up with, or without the club on his hand.

"I've been playing with these guys for a while, regardless of who's got to step in for practice or games," Strickland said. "I feel comfortable out there because of the guys I'm playing with. It's just everybody doing their job and I got to do my job—10 other guys are counting on me."

But whoever starts on the opposite side of Jack Ikegwuonu at cornerback, Hankwitz said isn't his biggest concern.

"No matter who goes in, there's still five guys in there a lot," he said. "To us, that's minimal."

With a balanced Tennessee offense that has four wide receivers with over 35 receptions on the year—not counting the Volunteers' leader Lucas Taylor, who is suspended for the bowl game—Wisconsin's nickel and dime coverage will be used quite a bit. So that means Strickland, Nettles and Brinkley all must be ready to go.

"They spread the ball really well," Strickland said. "We understand that we have to change things up—whether it be different coverages or disguising coverages because we know if we sit back there, (quarterback) Erik Ainge is going to pick us apart."


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