MADISON — Living to forget. It is the life of a defensive back and a phrase you will often hear coming from senior cornerback Derrick Tindal.
Through the first two games of the 2017 college football season, an issue that has appeared and reappeared is the defensive backfield for the Wisconsin Badgers and their inability to stop big plays through the air.
At halftime of the Florida Atlantic University game, it felt like the Badgers should have been up by at least 20 points. Instead, FAU was sticking close with Wisconsin only up by 10 at the break.
Miscommunication and cornerbacks straight up getting beat by opposing receivers allowed FAU to hang tough with the Badgers well into the third quarter.
Against FAU, the Badgers gave up 98 of the total 142 passing yards FAU would end the game with, on just two plays in the first half of the game; one of those plays being a 63-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter.
“I was over there,” Tindal explained. “I was in the nickel. I ain’t really going to tell all of our plays, but it was relayed to me, but I should have done a better job relaying it to the corner, and I didn’t. It turned into a big play, but we got to fix that.”
Live to forget, though.
Lamenting on past plays and focusing too much on them can end up being a negative. Focusing on what you can control, for the Wisconsin defensive backs, is more important.
Essentially, focusing on correcting the mistake for the play ahead instead of obsessing over plays already gone makes for a better use of time. Mistakes are learning experiences for all players, but at the boom or bust positions of cornerback and safety, it is even more crucial.
“I’m not concerned. The thing I want to see the most is how we bounce back from mistakes, like that’s what makes a great team,” Tindal said. “Every team is going to make mistakes, every team is going to have somebody miss a gap. After you miss that gap, it’s how you bounce back and show me that you could make up for it. The only time I’m worried is if you keep making the same mistake over and over.”
The players are not just doing it for positional reasons either. Not making the same mistake, not making a habit of a bad play, eases the pressure of teammates at other positions and helps build team chemistry.
“Even me, if I get caught on a move, I’ll be like, ‘I’m not getting caught on that move again,’ for my teammates so they don’t have to worry about me,” Tindal said. “It’s just things like that. I don’t look at the mistake, I look at what you do after the mistake.”
To the Badgers’ credit, they came out in the second half and shut out their opponent FAU, just like they shut out Utah State in the second half the previous week.
First year defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard seems to coach the players up well at halftime as the team has been successful with second half adjustments thus far.
“Just coming back out again and finishing the game physical, no mistakes, no mental errors. Whether that be a penalty or just a busted coverage, he emphasizes that just to close the game out,” sophomore linebacker Chris Orr said of Leonard at halftime.
Playing against teams like Utah State and FAU, the Badgers can afford to come out short of their best just to come out at halftime locked in. In upcoming games against better opponents and conference contenders, though, coming out slow could mean the game not going in Wisconsin’s favor.
The players recognize this, and know that they have to keep focusing on the small things.
“We have to be more locked in,” D’Cota [Dixon] said today, “We have to be more locked in during practice.”
“Not to say we weren’t locked in during practice but if we want to be that national championship team, we’re going to have to take that to another level,” Tindal explained. “Communication in practice has to be perfect if we want to be the team that I know we can be.”
Cleaning up the small things make the difference between good and great teams and makes the difference between a big play ending in your favor or against you.
“I think that’s the best part of the game. Everybody has their jobs and if people are doing the little things, then the big plays start to happen,” head coach Paul Chryst said.
Live to forget. Not to pretend like the previous play that did not end your favor did not happen, but so that the player can focus on playing the next play right, instead of focusing on reliving the bad play over and over.
“It’s one of those things, you just play, you just play. You mess up? Play the next play. That’s the life of a cornerback. That’s why we are so tight, because we know that people are going to beat up on us from the outside with their words. So why beat ourselves up as a team,” Tindal said during fall camp.
“That’s why we come together and are so close, I can depend on everybody. Even my teammates. They know I make plays and they know I’m not out there wanting the team to lose. Being on that stage, that’s just the life of a cornerback.”
The Badgers will be back on that stage, coming up this Saturday as they take on their toughest non-conference opponent of the season on the road at BYU.