Fresh off a 24-13 victory over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, the Wisconsin Badgers are preparing for a tough Week 7 matchup against the Iowa Hawkeyes which has major Big Ten Championship implications and the Heartland Trophy on the line.
The Badgers will be seeing a familiar face, as former quarterback Deacon Hill will earn another start for the Hawkeyes after starter Cade McNamara went down with a season-ending injury two weeks ago.
However, the biggest part of the battle will be on the other side of the football, as the Badgers will face their toughest defense to date against the Hawkeyes.
While the Hawkeyes have been solid in all facets of the field defensively, they've earned major contributions in multiple ways from star cornerback Cooper DeJean, who intercepted his second pass of the year against Purdue last weekend.
How are the Badgers preparing for DeJean in a crucial matchup?
It starts with respecting the value he provides to the Hawkeyes, which pertains to both defense and special teams.
“Well, obviously he does a lot,” head coach Luke Fickell said in regards to DeJean. “There were some situations where all of a sudden he showed up on offense as well.
“He’s a guy that you got to be careful on. If you take shots on him and things like that, he can change a game.
Identifying where DeJean is on the field will be important, as Fickell understands his impact, having watched him on multiple occasions, including last year’s bowl game between Iowa and Kentucky where the cornerback returned an interception for a touchdown.
“Obviously, he did it in the bowl game,” Fickell said. “I think he is the sole benefactor for that game, being the way it was. I mean, he at least created a lot of those things and then special teams, obviously he can make some big plays. So definitely got to know where he is.”
A part of countering DeJean’s impact is figuring out how Iowa will use him defensively or even offensively, where the cornerback has seen some reps.
“Got to definitely understand in some of those situations that they’re going to find ways to use him, whether that’s single him up defensively, whether it’s in special teams, or even if he does slide over trying to find ways to get him on the offense,” Fickell said. “But a very dynamic player that even the last couple of years, not being in the league, I had seen and watched and heard a lot about.”
Quarterback Tanner Mordecai gave the cornerback his praises as well, pointing out DeJean’s instinctive ability and high motor.
“He’s a good player. I think he’s really smart. He understands offenses and where they’re trying to attack, and he plays that accordingly,” Mordecai said ahead of Week 7.
“He plays really hard. He makes plays. So, yeah, definitely a good player.”
Looking to minimize DeJean’s impact in the game on Saturday, I wouldn't be surprised if the Badgers play the space game offensively in the air, focusing on shorter concepts, given a tough weather day, while pounding the ball with power backs Braelon Allen and Jackson Acker to muscle out some offense.
The Badgers haven't really seen much success downfield in the air this season, and I’d expect that to continue on Saturday, but it'll be a good test for Tanner Mordecai, who will look to remain aggressive, but will have to temper those feelings at times to make smart decisions.