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Eric Burrell to start at free safety vs. Michigan

He’ll play in place of Scott Nelson for the first half.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

With redshirt freshman Scott Nelson having to sit out the first half of Saturday’s game against the Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers head coach Paul Chryst announced on Monday morning that redshirt sophomore Eric Burrell will start at free safety.

Burrell took over for Nelson after officials flagged the latter for a targeting penalty late in the third quarter of Wisconsin’s 41–24 win against the Nebraska Cornhuskers last Saturday. Because the targeting penalty occurred in the second half of the game, Nelson will not be eligible to play until the third quarter of the Badgers’ match-up against the Wolverines.

Redshirt senior safety D’Cota Dixon believes Burrell, who recorded two tackles and a pass break-up against the Huskers, played well in relief of Nelson.

“He’s smart. Eric’s a good football player, a great football player,” Dixon said on Monday. “Obviously when you get more reps, you get more acclimated and more comfortable in adjusting to the game settings, but he did well.”

According to Chryst, the temporary loss of Nelson is felt not just on defense.

“It certainly affects us defensively, and also Scott did some things on special teams,” Chryst said. “So a number of people will have to step in and step up while he can’t go on that. That happens a lot in the season. That’s why we talk all the time, you just got to continue to work and opportunities will come. You don’t know how, and yet it’s a pretty good bet that your opportunities will come, and you want to make sure that you’ve worked and prepared since you’re ready for that.”

“That’s why I feel good about Eric. Eric’s done that. Eric, he hasn’t had a lot of snaps at safety but has been working and been around, so he needs to have a great week of prep this week. But he’s ready for this opportunity.”

A third-year played who redshirted his first season at Wisconsin, Burrell has played in 19 career games dating back to the 2017 season. That includes playing in all five games this season.

When asked what stands out about Burrell’s play, Dixon noted his fellow safety is “a sticker.”

“He’s a hard hitter,” Dixon said. “That’s one thing, he’ll throw his head in there. Then ... I feel like he’s reliable, very reliable. He knows what he’s doing, he’s smart, plays fast.”

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