Sev­eral UW se­niors en­joy­ing ban­ner years

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - SPORTS - Jeff Potrykus

MADI­SON – Paul Chryst un­der­stands what his boss learned dur­ing a suc­cess­ful run as Wis­con­sin’s foot­ball head coach: special sea­sons don’t hap­pen with­out re­mark­able per­for­mances from your se­niors.

The size of the se­nior class isn’t as im­por­tant as the weight of its con­tri­bu­tions.

“I re­mem­ber when we first got a chance to work with him,” Chryst said, re­fer­ring to for­mer coach and cur­rent ath­letic di­rec­tor Barry Alvarez. “He’d talk about: your se­niors need to play their best foot­ball if you want to have a good team.”

As UW (10-0, 7-0 Big Ten) pre­pares to host Michi­gan (8-2, 5-2) at 11 a.m. Satur­day, it is clear sev­eral se­niors are con­tribut­ing at lev­els an­tic­i­pated though not guar­an­teed when camp opened in July.

Se­nior out­side line­backer Leon Ja­cobs en­tered the sea­son with 45 games played but only four starts. He had bounced around like a pin­ball – out­side line­backer to inside line­backer to full­back – al­ways look­ing for a po­si­tion to call home.

Moved back to out­side line­backer last April, Ja­cobs has started all 10 games on a unit that sta­tis­ti­cally is among the best in the na­tion.

“He’s fun to be around and he’s en­joy­ing this sea­son and he’s got a nice edge to him,” Chryst said. “We’ve said there are a lot of guys on that de­fense that are fun to watch, and he’s cer­tainly one of them.”

Ja­cobs re­turned one fum­ble 21 yards for a touch­down and re­cov­ered an­other at the Iowa 14 to set up an­other touch­down in UW’s 38-14 vic­tory over the Hawkeyes on Satur­day. The game was his 55th at UW, a pro­gram record.

The vic­tory was the 42nd for the se­nior class, a pro­gram record.

Ja­cobs also recorded a sack to push his sea­son to­tal to 3 1⁄2. He is sec­ond on the team in tack­les for loss (8 1⁄2), fourth on the team in tack­les (40) and leads the team in hur­ries (eight).

“An­i­mal,” se­nior cor­ner­back Der­rick Tin­dal said when asked about Ja­cobs’ play against Iowa. “Beast. All of that in one.”

Se­nior de­fen­sive end Alec James en­tered the sea­son with 12 starts. He could match that to­tal with starts in the fi­nal two reg­u­lar-sea­son games, against Michi­gan and Min­nesota.

James had a to­tal of 48 tack­les, in­clud­ing 25 so­los, in his first three sea­sons. The Brook­field East High School grad­u­ate has 25 solo tack­les this sea­son and is fifth on the team in to­tal tack­les with 39. He is the leader of the de­fen­sive line­men and is tied for sec­ond on the team in sacks (5

Se­nior out­side line­backer Gar­ret Doo­ley red­shirted in 2013, did not play in ’14 be­cause of in­juries, played mostly on special teams in ’15 and fi­nally started two games last sea­son in place of in­jured starter Vince Biegel.

Doo­ley en­tered his fi­nal sea­son with 3 1⁄2 sacks, 6 1⁄2 tack­les for loss and 43 to­tal tack­les. Through 10 games this sea­son, Doo­ley leads the team in sacks (6 1⁄2) and tack­les for loss (9 1⁄2) and has 33 to­tal tack­les, tied for the No. 7 mark on the team.

Se­nior Na­trell Jamer­son, moved to safety from cor­ner­back in the spring, has made the change so seam­lessly that ques­tions about his abil­ity to do so died out af­ter only a few games.

Be­cause Jamer­son runs like a cor­ner­back and hits like a line­backer, de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jim Leon­hard can use him just about any­where on the field. He can cover wide re­ceivers and tight ends and can be ef­fec­tive near the line of scrim­mage in run sup­port.

Jamer­son has 33 tack­les and has bro­ken up eight passes. He has two in­ter­cep­tions, in­clud­ing one re­turned for a touch­down.

Tin­dal en­tered his fi­nal sea­son with three in­ter­cep­tions and 20 passes bro­ken up. Along with red­shirt ju­nior Nick Nel­son, UW has one of the bet­ter cor­ner­back tandems in the Big Ten. Op­pos­ing quar­ter­backs have rarely chal­lenged Tin­dal, who has six passes bro­ken up and one in­ter­cep­tion.

The list isn’t ex­haus­tive but it has to in­clude se­nior safety Joe Fer­gu­son.

Fer­gu­son en­tered his fi­nal sea­son with one start. He has started twice this sea­son, re­plac­ing D’Cota Dixon (right leg) and has been around the ball in sev­eral games. Fer­gu­son is tied for the team lead in in­ter­cep­tions (four) and has two fum­ble re­cov­er­ies.

With Dixon un­able to play against Iowa, Fer­gu­son got the start. He con­trib­uted one tackle and broke up a pass as UW held the Hawkeyes to 66 yards on 50 plays.

Fer­gu­son was asked af­ter the game if he could com­pile a list of de­fend­ers who con­trib­uted to the stel­lar per­for­mance.

“I think it would be any­body that stepped on the field,” he said.

The same could be said for the se­niors who have stepped onto the field for UW this sea­son.

“They are play­ing their best foot­ball,” Chryst said. “They are putting it out there.”

JEFF HANISCH / USA TODAY SPORTS

UW line­backer Leon Ja­cobs re­turns a fum­ble for a touch­down dur­ing the third quar­ter against Iowa on Satur­day in Madi­son.

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