Badgers' Nelson eager to face Terps' Moore
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MADISON--Nick Nelson won’t suffer from boredom when Maryland visits Camp Randall Stadium today.
“I’ve got to stay awake this week,” Wisconsin’s junior cornerback said. “You really have to stay awake because he can take a little out-route and take it the distance.
“I just know he can take a hitch 60, take a screen 60. We’ve just got to tackle. We’ve got to be alert.”
Nelson was referring to Maryland wide receiver DJ Moore, who had 12 receptions for 210 yards and two touchdowns in the Terrapins’ loss to Northwestern last week. Moore leads the Big Ten in receptions (44), touchdown receptions (seven), receiving yards (624), receiving yards per game (104.0) and receptions per game (7.3).
Nelson, who leads UW in passes broken up with nine, can’t wait to hit the field at 11 a.m. when No. 5 UW (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) tries to remain unbeaten.
“I was bored the first few games,” said Nelson who was rarely targeted in UW’s first three games and had a combined two passes broken up during that run. “It was frustrating because I felt like I really wasn’t really contributing. Now they’re coming at me and it’s fun.”
Nelson has a combined seven passes broken up in three Big Ten games and leads UW with nine overall. The 5-foot-11, 208-pounder, who sat out last season after transferring from Hawaii, has been as good as advertised.
“I have very high goals for Nick, as he does for himself,” said defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, who oversees the secondary. “I am going to critique and grade him at a higher level because I think he has that ability and talent.
“He has played extremely well. When people have tested him, he has showed up. He shows up and competes every play. You do that and you’re willing to learn, you’re going to be successful. Add that talent on top of it, he is going to make a lot of plays.”
Nelson has used speed, quickness, strength and video study to shadow wide receivers this season.
Combined with senior Derrick Tindal and redshirt freshman Dontye Carriere-Williams, UW has three quality cornerbacks on the field when Leonhard uses his nickel package. Safeties Natrell Jamerson and D’Cota Dixon are both above average in coverage.
UW is tied for the league lead in interceptions with Penn State (nine). Five of those have come from the secondary.
“I think we’re playing at a high level, but I don’t think we’re at the level we talked about,” Nelson said. “We’re still working toward that.”
All three cornerbacks likely will be matched up against Moore, who is 5-11 and 215 pounds, at some point Saturday. The Terrapins generally try to get him the ball quickly on screens and hitches, though they’ll test defenses with vertical routes a well.
“He is active everywhere in the pass game,” Leonhard said. “He moves all over the place. He’ll play on the outside. He’ll play on the inside.
“I’m impressed with him as a player. Ultra-competitive guy. When he’s got the ball in his hands he is very dangerous. We’ve got to be on top of him.”
Tindal, who has four passes broken up but like Nelson is looking for his first interception, is eager for the challenge.
“We feed off each other,” he said, referring to Nelson. “After he makes a play, I think: ‘I’ve got to get me one.’ ”
Nelson is glad to be making plays after seeing teams attack other parts of UW’s defense, particularly Carriere-Williams, early in the season.
“As a corner, you could lock a person down the whole game and the second you let up he could get you and they could complete a ball,” Nelson said. “You’ve got to get comfortable being bored.”
Leonhard, an All-American safety at UW, understands the level of focus required to stay sharp when you rarely see the ball thrown toward you.
“It is hard to focus when you’re getting the ball one out of 65 snaps or two out of 65 snaps,” he said. “That is the mind-set you have to have: you never know when your chance is going to come.
“There are games you get two opportunities but if you miss one it might be a touchdown. There’s other games when the ball is going to come at you six, eight, 10 maybe 12 times.
“You never know how the game is going to play out, so you have to be locked in every snap.”
Boredom won’t be an issue for Nelson today.