The University of Wisconsin football team's defense has simply played too well this season to be derailed by one injury, but many worried prior to Saturday's game against No. 7 Nebraska that the unit could look much more ordinary without inside linebacker Jack Cichy, who is out for the season after tearing a pectoral muscle last week at Iowa.
Ryan Connelly and Leon Jacobs, Cichy's replacements, put a halt to that theory in the Badgers' overtime victory at Camp Randall Stadium.
They tied for the team lead with 11 tackles while helping UW hold the Cornhuskers to 152 rushing yards on the night."We knew that the guys on the team and the coaches and everyone had full confidence in us, and they knew there wouldn't be a drop-off," said Connelly, who also had two tackles for loss and two pass breakups. "But in a way, yeah, we wanted to prove to everyone outside of the building that there wouldn't be one."
Connelly played well in the Badgers' season-opening win over LSU but wasn't called upon as much after T.J. Edwards returned to the lineup the next week.
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Jacobs, a starter at inside linebacker to begin last season before suffering a season-ending toe injury, was back at his old home after an offseason switch to fullback. The Badgers moved him back to inside linebacker after Chris Orr tore his ACL against the Tigers.
"It felt good," Jacobs said. "It felt like last year before I got hurt.
"I'm sure people out there, they're worried because Jack was on pace to be an All-American. I feel like (Connelly and I) did a good job today."
Jacobs' 11 tackles were one shy of his career high.
"I think Leon's another great example of a guy that will do anything he can to help this team," UW coach Paul Chryst said. "Whether it was going to fullback and then going back to linebacker, he's on a bunch of special teams. I think he is an example of this group and that they will do anything they can to help this team be the best it can be."
Connelly made a key play in overtime, getting into the backfield to bring down Nebraska running back Terrell Newby behind the line of scrimmage and forcing the Cornhuskers into a third-and-8 from the 23-yard line. UW won the game two plays later.
"That's a play we had seen a couple times throughout the game," Connelly said. "The coaches kept reminding us to shoot the gap. I finally was able to take advantage of the hole there and shoot the gap and get the back down."
What Connelly and Jacobs did Saturday wasn't anything new for UW's defense.
Along with Orr's injury, starting nose tackle Olive Sagapolu has missed the past two games, and outside linebacker Vince Biegel missed the two before that. Lubern Figaro has also filled in nicely for No. 3 cornerback Natrell Jamerson, who remains out after injuring his leg against Akron on Sept. 10.
Quality depth on that side of the ball has revealed itself for the Badgers throughout the season. Connelly and Jacobs were no different Saturday, and UW's defense continued to play like one of the best in the country.
"That's a big part of our team -- guys stepping up," Chryst said. "And I think that one thing that sticks out to me about this group is that they care a lot about each other. And therefore when they're in that situation, they will put it all out there.
"I think that the coaches did a really good job of preparing them and giving them confidence in what we're doing. And yet what's fun about the game is that they've still got to go out and execute it. I thought that there were a lot of guys that stepped up in that moment."
This article was written by Jason Galloway from The Wisconsin State Journal and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.