MIAMI SHORES, Fla. — Statistically speaking, D’Cota Dixon’s junior season isn’t all that different from what he accomplished in his first year as a starter in 2016.
The University of Wisconsin safety, however, took a much more difficult road to get to that point this season.
Dixon battled injuries for a large chunk of the year and hasn’t taken a full load of snaps since a 38-13 victory over Maryland on Oct. 21. With nearly a month off since the Big Ten title game, he could finally be ready to re-take a primary role in UW’s defense during Saturday’s Orange Bowl against Miami.
“We haven’t had D’Cota Dixon 100 percent for a long time,” UW defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said. "To gain him back is going to be huge for this defense."
Dixon, who said he’s dealing with hamstring and shoulder issues, missed games against Illinois on Oct. 28 and Iowa on Nov. 11. He started against Indiana on Nov. 4 but left the game before it finished.
Over UW’s final four games, he played limited reps in a reserve role behind senior Joe Ferguson.
Dixon only called himself “in-season healthy” Tuesday and continues to maintain his body the best he can leading up to Saturday’s game against the Hurricanes.
“At this point, it doesn’t really matter,” Dixon said. "You’ve just got to fight with what you’ve got and hope that it all works out for you. That’s all you can do.
“I’ve been trying to fight through injuries I feel like half the season. So I feel good to try to go a full game hopefully."
Ferguson played well when slotting into Dixon’s starting spot late in the year, and Leonhard said the senior will still play a role in the Orange Bowl.
Ferguson nabbed an interception in his first start against Illinois and recorded two more in the fourth quarter next week at Indiana after Dixon exited the game.
“He’s stepping up and making plays,” Dixon said of Ferguson. "The one thing about Joe is he brings a lot of energy. ... It’s just nice to see him make some plays because he does it all the time in practice. He’s been doing it for a long time. It’s really huge when you can get in a game and kind of keep everything going smooth. He did a great job."
Leonhard said having depth is “beautiful” and called it a “fun problem” to try working in all three safeties — Dixon, Ferguson and Natrell Jamerson — into the game plan for Saturday’s Orange Bowl.
If Dixon’s able to take on his largest role since October, however, it certainly stands to help a Badgers defense trying to bounce back from an uneven performance against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game.
“Having D’Cota on the field is awesome,” UW cornerback Dontye Carriere-Williams said. "He’s a leader. Just being next to D’Cota on the field gives you confidence. You know he’s going to do his job, so you want to do your job to the best of your ability."