Friday, December 2 2022

MADISON — During the offseason, Wisconsin Badger coaches recruited cornerbacks Jay Shaw, Cedrick Dort and Justin Clark to be high school impact players.

On Saturday, the three took a step closer to making it a reality. Transfers have each seen action in the Badgers 66-7 win over New Mexico State at Camp Randall Stadium.

This treat was a notable development in a predictably lopsided affair. Shaw started for the third consecutive week. Dort played in all three games, starting the last two. Clark, who is recovering from a hamstring injury, played his first game and saw limited action.

Shaw almost made a pass in the first half for what would have been his second interception in as many weeks. Otherwise, it was a quiet but solid performance for three veterans whose performances could weigh heavily in the future.

Wisconsin opens the Big Ten game next week at Ohio State where the Buckeyes offense is powered by American quarterback CJ Stroud and breakthrough receivers Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka.

The Badgers are going to need as many good cover men as possible. Saturday was a good opportunity to work more into the game before playing in the national spotlight of a Saturday night game.

This was especially true for Clark.

“It was important to get a few reps under my belt, to knock the rust off,” he said. “I’m going to do some of that next week as well with practice. We’re going to go through the whole week and go through the mental game.”

The Badgers have played a lot of dimes and nickels this season, the same is expected when they try to contain the Buckeyes.

The contributions of Shaw, Dort and Clark take on added importance given the secondary’s successes this season. Senior Alex Smith, who had a great fall camp before suffering a hamstring injury, has yet to be dressed for a game. The team’s coverage also took a hit with the loss of safety Hunter Wohler, who is out indefinitely with a leg injury. Wisconsin also finished Saturday without junior Semar Melvin, a substitute who left the game in the first half with a leg injury and did not return.

Clark, who played for Toledo last season, can sympathize with these players. He injured his hamstrings during the second week of fall camp. He returned to practice before the Washington State game, but the coaches/coaches deemed it best to wait until Game 3 to play.

Despite being a seventh-year senior trying to make his mark on a new team, Clark remained patient with his recovery.

“It’s a bit more urgent, but I know I have to take my time with things,” he said. “I know what kind of player I am when I’m 100% healthy. I think I showed that in my first game here in the spring and in camp. I just need to take my time and do well.

Sixth-year seniors Dort and Shaw brought immense experience with them to UW. Dort has played 43 games, 22 starts at Kentucky. Shaw started 16 games at UCLA and played 43 overall.

Shaw finished with two tackles and broke a pass against New Mexico State. Dort and Clark did not record any statistics.

Dort, however, said afterwards that he felt he was finding his voice on his new team.

“I feel like I’m helping this team with a more mental phase of the game and off the pitch because I’ve been through everything you can think of…” he said.

“It’s crazy to see these young kids and how they react to certain things. I remember I used to react that way when I was their age. I just want to help them as best I can. I feel like God is placing me in their lives to catch them at the right time and give them some points of what I’ve been through.

Clark, meanwhile, took a major step against the Aggies. He played and left the pitch feeling good.

Good thing because the Buckeyes are about to present UW with their toughest test of the young season.

Will UW be up to the challenge? Seven Wisconsin players, including five defensive backs, have intercepted passes this season. It’s safe to say that Dort, Shaw and Clark would like the turnovers to keep coming to Columbus.

“Whenever the defense is there, each of us can play anytime in the game,” Dort said, speaking of the whole unit. “It’s good to see. Being an older guy, it’s good to see that’s the type of defense I’m going to play with.


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