The Wisconsin Badgers implemented the approach I expected at cornerback, rotating cornerback Nyzier Fourqueran with the starters for a three-headed group at the position.
However, Fourqueran exclusively rotated with sixth-year cornerback Alexander Smith as the boundary corner, while Ricardo Hallman played the majority of the game as the field corner.
Following the game, head coach Luke Fickell iterated that the plan was for Fourqueran and Smith to rotate in the boundary role.
“[Nyzier] stepped in there and did a great job,” Fickell said. “We had a plan to be able to play both those guys more in particular, into the boundary.”
Given the snap count for Hallman, and the increased action towards the field side, Fickell did move Fourqueran to that role for a few snaps, flipping Hallman to the other side, but it was primarily a boundary day for the transfer.
“We did put [Nyzier] over to the field and give him a little bit of more of a break from Rico, even though there was more action to the field than sometimes you get. But I thought both those guys did a great job. We knew going in there that we wanted to be able to roll those guys.”
But, with only three guys playing at cornerback, Ricardo Hallman had to play 71 snaps, while Jason Maitre played 68 snaps, which isn't something that Fickell wants to see.
“We don’t want them to have to play all 70, 80 snaps, whatever it is that we ended up playing. But we got to find a way to be able to do that with Rico as well and give him a little bit of relief, too. But I think that’s what we have seen through all of fall camp that we’ve got the ability to play for sure with those three guys, and we need to get the fourth one ready as well,” Fickell said.
The initial hope was that transfer cornerback Michael Mack, who had two years of experience at Air Force, would be the fourth defensive back in the rotation, but it doesn't seem that he’ll be available to play in 2023, given the denied status of his waiver.
With Mack out, Fickell envisions true freshman cornerback Jonas Duclona, who already has a spot on the two-deep, to play very soon.
“Yeah, I mean, [that fourth cornerback role] where I was curious as to where Michael [Mack] would fit in if he was able to play this year. But, Jonas [Duclona] is definitely right now the next guy we would have played, and he’s going to play this year. I mean, he’s a guy that we got to get on special teams now because he’s not a guy we’re trying to save for four games.”
While Duclona doesn't have experience, the true freshman has continued to impress the staff throughout fall camp.
“He’s a guy that’s proven it all through camp. In the spring ball, he took all the two reps,” Fickell said. “I think all through fall camp, he took basically majority of all, if not all the two reps as well.”
“He’s there. We’ve got confidence in him. I just think that based on the situation, he didn’t get an opportunity to go in last week, but this may be the week just in particular at the temple and the pace that they’ll go with.”
The Badgers need an answer quickly at the cornerback position, given the tempo they’ll play offensively, as well as the tempo of the Washington State offense.
Ricardo Hallman playing 71 snaps every single game isn't sustainable throughout the full season, even if it’s at the field corner.
For reference, the boundary corner plays the shorter side of the field, where throws are easier for the quarterback, hence the increased action there, while field corner plays the wide side.
The boundary corner usually has the most difficult tasks, given that initial reads usually come on their field of the field, but quarterbacks with good arm strength are able to utilize the entire portion of the field.
Fourqueran was a good addition to the team, as his 6’1 frame allows the Badgers to consistently play press-man on the boundary side in rotation with the 5’11 Alexander Smith, which allows Hallman, who stands around 5’9, to play off-coverage on the field side.
Duclona, standing at 5’10, 185-pounds, has a solid frame for the field side, and the Badgers would be better off getting him reps early on to prepare him for as the season goes along.
But, even if the true freshman plays on the field side, teams will look to isolate that portion of the field and test the cornerback, which means that the acclimation will need to come quickly.
That’s why the late transfer addition of Michael Mack was invaluable for the 2023 season; having a veteran cornerback to play in the two-deep would allow for a natural development for Duclona and the younger cornerbacks, but the staff is confident in the true freshman and likely will have to rely on him sooner than later.
Similarly, expect some extra rotation with the nickel spot, as Jason Maitre could use a breather after playing 68 snaps in Week 1. Owen Arnett seems like the top option as a backup nickel.
Regardless, the main takeaway is that Duclona is going to play sooner than later, which means the Badgers will need him ready as soon as possible, with the first test potentially coming in just a few days against Washington State.