Senior cornerback Devin Smith has had to watch the play twice during the University of Wisconsin football team’s preparation this week to play at Oregon State.
Smith was watching video from last season’s meeting between the two teams in the second game. Beavers wide receiver Markus Wheaton caught a short pass on the left side of the offense. Linebacker Mike Taylor and Smith converged to make the tackle, with Smith’s left foot getting caught in the turf awkwardly underneath him.
The play ended Smith’s season, knocking him out with a broken foot just when he was playing his best football.
The fact Smith could watch it twice, without cringing — or much reaction at all — speaks to how far he has come in the year since then.
“I’m excited to get back out there and just get some redemption,” he said of the game at Oregon State on Saturday. “I thank God to get another opportunity to go out there (on the field).”
Smith was one of several players knocking the rust off last week, a group that included defensive end David Gilbert — who was also redshirted last season with a foot injury — and tailback Montee Ball, who was limited in preseason camp by a concussion.
“I think it was just the anxiety of being back out there (more than rust),” Smith said. “Now, I’m more settled down. I got the first game out of the way. ... I’m ready to keep the ball rolling.”
Oregon State’s passing game was limited a year ago. Quarterback Sean Mannion was a redshirt freshman and didn’t start but entered the game after only three plays. The Beavers also had two key players injured, wide receiver James Rodgers and running back Malcolm Agnew.
This should look more like a traditional Pacific-12 Conference offense now. Mannion made 12 starts last season and Wheaton returns as a senior after catching 73 passes for 986 yards.
UW defensive coordinator Chris Ash challenged the defensive backs that this game will go a long way in determining how they will play this season.
“Coach Ash has said — I feel the same way — I think this is going to set the tone for our season,” Smith said. “I think this will say a lot about who we are.”
Ash didn’t get too expansive when asked about the play of the cornerbacks in the opening win over Northern Iowa. Senior Marcus Cromartie gave up a couple completions, but the only one that really bothered Ash was a fourth-and-4 conversion late in the third quarter prior to the Panthers’ first touchdown.
“The two corners overall had a decent game,” Ash said. “Cromartie had one play I wish he would have done better on ... he let a guy get outside, lost leverage on it. They were able to catch it and convert a fourth down.”
Smith’s own self-critique involved one missed tackle that spoiled an otherwise solid return.
Everybody should know a lot more about Smith and the secondary after this game.
“I’m working every single day, because I want to be one of the best corners in the country,” Smith said.