Defense for No. 11 Wisconsin perseveres through key injuries
MADISON, Wis. (AP) Another week, another key injury for Wisconsin's defense.
The 11th-ranked Badgers have weathered the adversity just fine so far, but the loss of leading tackler Jack Cichy for the year may provide coach Paul Chryst's defense its toughest challenge yet.
Teammates were understandably down as preparations began this week for Saturday's showdown against No. 7 Nebraska . They need to move on quickly, however difficult it may be, without the popular Cichy.
''It's going to take our whole defensive front seven to fill in for guys who go down like Jack,'' said linebacker Vince Biegel, who returned for Wisconsin's 17-9 win over Iowa last week after missing two games with a foot injury.
But the Badgers (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) have become frustratingly used to having to replace key pieces on defense.
Cichy is the second starting inside linebacker to be lost for the year, after Chris Orr got hurt in the season opener. Biegel missed the losses to Michigan and Ohio State.
Third cornerback Natrell Jamerson has missed several games with a left leg injury. Backup outside linebacker Zack Baun missed the Iowa game with his own left leg injury. Space-eating nose tackle Olive Sagapolu (right arm) has already been ruled out for the Nebraska game, missing a second straight contest.
Starting cornerback Derrick Tindal left the Iowa game with a right leg injury.
''Sometimes life throws you curveballs. Sometimes football is the same way,'' Biegel said.
Yet there the Badgers remain near the top of key categories in the FBS:
-Fourth in scoring defense (14.3 points per game)
-Ninth in total defense (300.6 yards)
-Tenth in rushing defense (102.9 yards)
''There's talent and chemistry to it. I think there's a good scheme to it,'' Chryst said.
First-year coordinator Justin Wilcox has successfully built on the scheme that former coordinator Dave Aranda established last season before leaving for LSU.
At outside linebacker, formerly untested Garrett Dooley filled in well for Biegel. Ryan Connelly will take over for Cichy. The top sub at inside linebacker also filled in when Orr went down in the opener, before the Badgers got T.J. Edwards back from a season-opening injury.
In a testament to the depth at linebacker, that unit remains one of the best in the Big Ten in spite of the injuries. T.J. Watt has emerged as a force on the outside with Biegel, while there shouldn't be much drop-off with Connelly joining Edwards inside.
''There's a challenge that we've got to rise up to ... where we've been successful, but that doesn't guarantee anything going forward,'' Chryst said.
Perhaps the Badgers will draw inspiration from the red T-shirts they started wearing the last few days with the phrase, ''Got grit?'' printed in across the chest.
Said Chryst: ''Grit is something that's important. There (are) a lot of guys on this team that have it.''
Wisconsin prides itself on a blue-collar, grind-it-out mentality. The Badgers can go step-for-step against squads at Ohio State and Michigan filled with highly-rated recruits.
Cichy himself emerged from walk-on status to becoming an energetic heart of the defense.
''We've really got a bunch of guys who embody what Wisconsin is all about. That's smart, tough and dependable,'' safety Leo Musso said.
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