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Sunday, February 05, 2023

'The ultimate teammate': Dixon leads Badgers defense to victory from the sideline

CHAMPAIGN, ILL. — The most important member of the No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers’ defense in their 24-10 win over Illinois might have been the guy who didn’t play a single snap.

Redshirt junior safety D’Cota Dixon sat out of the game after testing his injured left leg in warmups, but he still found a way to make a major impact in his team’s victory.

The Illini (0-5 Big Ten, 2-6 overall) struggled to sustain offensive success as UW’s stout defense flexed its might and shut down Illinois’ two-quarterback system.

Dixon was there the whole way, leading his group from the sideline and helping any way he could.

“We needed him to be more of a coach today,” senior cornerback Derrick Tindal said. “He stepped into that job, and he was always interactive with us, letting us know what he saw.”

Every time the Badgers (5-0, 8-0) made a big play, Dixon was one of the first ones running off of the sidelines to high-five teammates and keeping the energy level high.

When Tindal intercepted freshman Illinois quarterback Cam Thomas in the first quarter, it was Dixon who was bouncing up and down on the sideline waiting to show his brother some love.

When redshirt sophomore linebacker Tyler Johnson made his first-career sack and forced fumble in the second quarter, Dixon was there waiting with a hug and a slap on the helmet.

The crowd at the game wasn’t particularly raucous with empty seats littering the bleachers, but the sidelined safety was sure to keep his whole team amped up.

“He was energetic, keeping us up the entire time and still being a leader for us,” redshirt sophomore linebacker Chris Orr said. “He was definitely still a key instrument in the game.”

Dixon was more than just a cheerleader, though. With 21 starts and 34 total games under his belt, he’s got the experience to recognize what offenses are trying to do on the field. Saturday, he communicated that to his teammates.

Wisconsin’s secondary was all ears every time Dixon came running onto the field during a timeout or commercial break because he’d always have a tip or a pointer on how any individual player could be in better position on the next play.

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“The whole game, I heard him on the sideline, just giving us little hints,” Tindal said. “I heard him one time call a screen and the next play they ran a screen.”

The person most impacted by Dixon, though, redshirt senior safety Joe Ferguson.

In just his second-career start, the grandson of Barry Alvarez stepped up with a fourth-quarter interception that helped seal the win for the Badgers.

Dixon was in Ferguson’s ear from the moment they took the field in pregame warmups, and the advice and encouragement provided a constant source of confidence for the fill-in.

“He’s just the ultimate teammate and friend,” Ferguson said. “It means the world to me how good of a person he is. He could have been sulking and sad that he wasn’t playing, but he was the exact opposite, just trying to get everybody juiced.”

Dixon didn’t need to be on the field to be a difference-maker for his defense. His teammates played vicariously through him and continued their undefeated season with another commanding performance.

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