October 2, 2009

Decker to test UW secondary

MADISON, Wis. - The numbers are staggering for Eric Decker. Through four games, the Gopher wide receiver has already racked up 499 yards receiving on 35 receptions and has four touchdowns.

In fact, you can add up the next four leading Gopher receivers behind Decker, and their combined receptions (34) is still lower than his 35.

So, from an outsider's point of view, one would think Wisconsin would have to radically change its game plan to slow the Big Ten's leading receiver and one of the nations premier skill players.

Entering Saturday's game, that is simply not the case.

"We've got a couple of different things that we're going to do," UW secondary coach Kerry Cooks said. "But we're not going to do anything that we haven't practiced or played starting back from last spring to this fall."

Obviously Cooks wasn't about to delve deeper into the Badgers' game plan to try slowing Decker because that would simply do more harm than good. However, he did acknowledge that Decker is one of the nation's best at his position and that he is a special player, particularly when the ball is in the air.

So far this season, Decker has had 100-yard receiving days against every opponent except for Northwestern. Still, even in his worst statistical game against the Wildcats he still finished with 84-yards on eight receptions and completed two touchdowns.

Against Syracuse in the season opener, Decker had nine receptions for 183 yards, his best statistical game in terms of yardage.

Overall, the senior wide out is averaging 125 yards per game heading into the annual battle for the axe.

"What more can you ask for as a defensive back as far as a challenge," UW sophomore cornerback Aaron Henry said. "We know what he's capable of, but I don't think nobody realizes what we're capable of on the back end."

If last week was any indication, the Big Ten should start taking notice of what the UW secondary is capable of. It was in that game the Badger secondary limited Michigan State's Blair White to only one catch and eight yards.

Considering that White put up more than 150 yards against the Badgers in last season's game, that performance a week ago should give the players confidence entering another stiff test against Decker.

"We're never looking for a break," UW sophomore Devin Smith. "We want to be the best defensive back group out there. So we're always looking out for challenges no matter whom it is. We're just going to work hard throughout the week and constantly prepare ourselves for game time situations because we know they're great receivers and great players.

"We're just going to go out there and give it our all and just look for the result that we've been looking forward to throughout practice."

What makes Decker so good though, is his ability to rise high into the air and retain his level of physicality to bring in the ball. He has strong hands that are as sure as any other receivers in the land.

So, knowing that, the Badgers are going to have to be physical with him and try to rattle him from the start by rotating different players on him and showing him different coverage's, some of which will include safety help over the top.

But, that doesn't necessarily mean Chris Maragos, the team leader in interceptions, will be over the top on a play-by-play basis.

"We've got some things as far as within our scheme that will give us some help," Cooks said. "You can't take one guy….Decker is a special player, don't get me wrong, and we'll do some things where we'll get some help to those corners. But, we're not going to mix up our personnel to confuse our guys to take him out of his game.

"We've got to do what we do and play ball. We've got to challenge routes and we've got to compete. And we've got to do some things as far as mixing up coverage's and keep it a guessing game."

The last time the Badgers saw Decker was in UW's 41-34 win in 2007. In that game, Decker finished with 125 yards receiving, but is more infamously remembered for a shot to the groin he delivered to Badger cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu.

While that riled up several members of the Badger faithful, the current members of the UW team are more focused on his ability on the field as well as the rest of the Gopher receivers ability, not something that occurred in the heat of the moment two years ago.

"Whether it's Eric Decker or one of their other receivers," Henry said. "We know he's their premier guy. But we don't want any of the other guys to go off. We're just going to try to contain their passing game in general. That's going to be Decker, that's going to be Troy Stoudermire.

"That's definitely going out there and playing our style of football."

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