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New responsibilities for Dezmen Southward, Nate Hammon give Badgers' defense more versatility

Wisconsin found success against BYU in putting safeties Dezmen Southward and Nate Hammon in man coverage against wide receivers, and fans could see more of that moving forward when the Badgers play bigger receiving corps.

Mike McGinnis

MADISON -- Dezmen Southward missed his jam at the line of scrimmage and bumped his man a second too early once he caught up. The pass interference flags floating down around him didn't matter, as the Wisconsin senior watched BYU wideout Cody Hoffman haul in a 34-yard touchdown anyway.

Without context, it seemed like a sloppy play for a veteran like Southward. But it was the only blip on an otherwise masterful day where he played cornerback for the first time in his career, a decision that came based on the size of the Cougars' receivers.

"The job (he) had on a difficulty factor was probably a 9.5. Dez had to go outside and play corner, and that's a whole other different world than playing slot." -Bill Busch on Dezmen Southward

"The job (he) had on a difficulty factor was probably a 9.5," Wisconsin safeties coach Bill Busch said. "Dez had to go outside and play corner, and that's a whole other different world than playing slot. He went out there and did a great job. They did catch one deep ball on him, but he also had a lot of plays where he just canceled (the wide receiver) out."

Badgers head coach Gary Andersen has had plenty of experience with Hoffman and every other BYU receiver from his time at Utah State, and he knew playing Southward and fellow safety Nate Hammon in man-to-man coverage on bigger wide receivers would eliminate mismatches the Cougars wanted to take advantage of.

It was a bit of a risky move to take the two out of their comfort zone. Andersen admitted Monday he was worried about it heading into the game, and Hammon said he was performing much worse during practice last week than he did in Saturday's 27-17 victory.

Now that the two have proven themselves capable of playing well in such situations, though, it opens up an array of options for Wisconsin's defense moving forward over the last few weeks of the season.

"For not playing corner before and for seeing some great receivers, I thought (Southward) played well," defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said. "We weren't concerned as much with the run-by as we were the push off. That particular situation fit what we adjusted to, so if that shows up again, I could see it happen again.

"We have some corners that can run, they're just not 6'2, 210 pounds and all those things." -Dave Aranda

"We have some corners that can run, they're just not 6'2, 210 pounds and all those things."

Coaches haven't ruled out using this game strategy against Indiana. Andersen said Monday he hadn't seen enough tape of the Hoosiers to make that kind of determination, and Busch said it was "still a work in progress." They have, however, pointed out offensive similarities between BYU and Indiana.

Two of Indiana's top three receivers -- Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes -- are 6'3 and 6'2, respectively, making it possible Southward and Hammon could be asked to hold down wide receivers man-to-man for the second straight week.

The recent play of the team's other safeties, particularly starting sophomore Michael Caputo, has been another factor that allowed Wisconsin to try Southward and Hammon in cornerback-like roles.

While Caputo wasn't asked to man up on wide receivers Saturday, the coaching staff has given him extra responsibilities to make the Badgers' secondary even more versatile.

"Michael Caputo had a fantastic game (against BYU)," Andersen said. "He played very, very well. He's a very unique kid. His ability to be able to prepare and understand in the film room and take the coaching and get onto the practice field and be able to see it at game speed, he's got a lot on his plate. He's in so many different positions, different spots."

Although Busch didn't give away whether this will be the case come Saturday, he did say there would be a need to match up their best skill people on Indiana's most dangerous targets.

"They have great skill people, arguably the best in the conference," Busch said. "Just look at the numbers -- where they are in scoring, where they are in total offense, where they are in passing. They've got great quarterbacks, great skill guys, so we have our hands full."

The Hoosiers are top-10 nationally in total offense and scoring offense, and they rank 12th in passing yards per game. Even with a mediocre 4-5 record, they haven't scored fewer than 28 points in any game this season.

No matter how the Badgers decide to line up, they will likely be challenged Saturday. But the emergence of their young secondary, and the versatility it showed last week against BYU, gives Wisconsin more options than it once had to cancel out mismatches.

And with more and more reps, Southward and Hammon only look to become more comfortable in their new responsibilities.

"It was different, definitely," Southward said. "Something I had never done before at any level. There'll be an adjustment period, but I feel like I was able to challenge (the wide receiver) for the greater part of the game.

"If the coaches are asking me to play there, I'd do it in a heartbeat. Anything that they need me to do that will help this team out at all, I'll do it, and I think I share the same sentiment as anyone on the team. They'll go out and play any position that the coaches ask them and do it to the best of their ability. That's exactly what I did on Saturday."

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