"He said that was the worst we had played since he got here," sophomore Devin Smith admitted, as the secondary let FSU's Ryan Colburn, making his second career start, throw three touchdown passes in the opening 30 minutes. "Everybody needed to get their eyes in the right place because the points that were on the board were because of the secondary."
Wisconsin did respond in the second half, limiting Colburn to 117 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions, but it was a performance that made Sunday's film session quite uncomfortable for the parties involved.
"Yeah, that wasn't much fun either," Smith admitted.
When Wisconsin takes on Wofford Saturday in the final tune-up before the Big Ten season begins next week, Cooks, who is blessed with depth at his position, is going to go with a cornerback by committee approach to get the best players on the field.
"My philosophy right now is that I've got four guys that are talented enough," Cooks said of his corners. "The advantage that I have is all those guys have experience of playing. The committee approach makes them stay fresh and stay mentally into it, which allows them to focus. Now, if I have a guy that's hot and is playing his tail off, I am obviously going with him and let him roll until he makes a mistake."
"The biggest thing that comes off of Saturday is they are what they are – they are young and they haven't seen a lot, so they are going to get tested. The great thing is we can coach off of that having a win."
After rotating three cornerbacks (Allen Langford, Niles Brinkley and Mario Goins) last season, Cooks has relied on four cornerbacks – sophomores Antonio Fenelus, Aaron Henry, Smith, and Brinkley, a junior – to fill in the void left by Langford's graduation and Goins transferring.
While UW held Northern Illinois's passing attack in check, adversity was the theme in week two against the Bulldogs.
- Henry woke up early on game-day morning throwing up, another casualty of the flu outbreak, tried to perform after receiving intravenous fluids but lasted only two series, being beaten for a touchdown on one of them.
- Losing Henry forced Brinkley, who lost his starting job during fall camp, into action despite being limited throughout the week with a hamstring injury.
- Fenelus and Smith, both making his second start, were beaten for touchdown passes in the second quarter for failing to either trust their technique or were caught peaking into the backfield … big no-no's by Cooks' teaching.
"We gave up 21 points in the first half and it's not like we gave up any big runs because they were just throwing the ball all over the place," Henry said. "It was definitely frustrating, (but) it's not what happens when you get beat, it's how you respond to it and we have responded."
Since the dreaded first half, Wisconsin's secondary, according to Cooks, have been on a focused mission, taking a stronger approach to drills, technique and getting better as a unit.
Although Wofford is predicated on running the football, the Terriers will throw the ball occasionally, having completed only 10 of 23 passes for 109 yards in its first two games.
"The way they get you is they lull you to sleep," sophomore cornerback Devin Smith said. "Being DBs this week, we can't be lulled to sleep. Once you fall asleep, that's when they can hit you big."
Smith has rarely been off since the start of fall camp. Appearing in 11 games last season primarily on the kickoff unit, Smith's hard work over the summer showed when he was consistently the best UW cornerback in camp, allowing him to start over Brinkley, who led the team in interceptions last season.
After making a career-high six tackles in the opener, Smith, along with the rest of his unit, has taken the slap in the face personally and hopes to make up for the humiliation on Saturday.
"My technique has to be on every single play," Smith said. "It was a great learning experience for me because a game situation is never going to be like it is in practice. I focus on my technique, make sure my eyes are in the right spot and back pedaling to the same tempo that is going to be in the game. The one play I let off could be the big play."