Losing your defensive captain before the season is a major blow to any football team. Wisconsin did not let such a setback define its season.
Jack Cichy, a fifth-year senior linebacker, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament early in fall camp. Ohio State fans should be acquainted with Cichy; he was all over the field in the Buckeyes’ 30-23 overtime win against the Badgers last year, recording a team-high 15 tackles.
Wisconsin hasn’t just weathered the storm of losing the centerpiece of its defense. It has thrived.
The Badgers lead the NCAA in fewest yards (236.9) and rushing yards (80.5) allowed per game. They are second in the nation in points allowed (12.0) and passing yards allowed (156.4) per game.
“I don’t know if there was an added pressure, but there was a need to step up,” junior linebacker T.J. Edwards said. “We’ve had a number of guys step up, and it’s always hard when you lose a guy like that, but I think we’ve responded very well.”
The Badgers already had lost outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel to the NFL, as well as two starters in the secondary from last year’s team.
Cichy’s replacement, junior Ryan Connelly, like Cichy is a former walk-on. He has stepped up with a team-high 71 tackles and has made a nice pairing with Edwards — a finalist for the 2017 Butkus Award, given to the nation’s best linebacker — in the middle of the Badgers’ defense.
That stout defense will have its hands full Saturday. Ohio State boasts college football’s fifth-highest-scoring offense at 43.8 points per game.
The challenge of taking on the Buckeyes’ two-headed rushing attack of Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins presents a special challenge. The two have combined for 603 yards and 7.8 yards per carry the last three games.
“They do what they do and they do it very well,” Edwards said. “It’s a huge challenge, but I think we’re ready for it.”