Assessing the inside linebackers in the wake of Jack Cichy’s season-ending injury

MADISON — Jack Cichy is done for the year after tearing the ACL in his right knee Tuesday night at practice. And for the second time in 10 months, Wisconsin players and coaches are having to field questions about where they go from here now that they don’t have their fiery and talented inside linebacker. The choices, like they were last October when Cichy tore his left pectoral muscle and missed the second half of the season, are far better than most teams in the country could hope for in a similar situation.

Here’s our look at who has a chance to roll with the first-team defense next to to three-year starter T.J. Edwards and attempt to fill the massive void left by Cichy

Junior Ryan Connelly (2016: 59 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss, 1 interception)

Connelly started the final seven games of last season after Cichy went down and filled in admirably. A former walk-on just like Cichy, Connelly, according to PFF College Football, had the No. 1 run stop percentage among all returning inside linebackers in the country. He would likely be a heavy favorite to be Cichy’s replacement once again, but he’s currently dealing with a leg injury of his own that has kept him out of practice for the last week. Coach Paul Chryst said the injury isn’t season-ending, but he also gave no indication when the Minnesota native would be able to return.

Sophomore Chris Orr (2016: Torn ACL on first snap. 2015: 46 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, .5 sack)

Orr started five games as a true freshman in 2015 before tearing his left ACL on the first snap of 2016. He’s now fully recovered and was running with the first-team defense on Thursday morning. Orr is not the biggest guy, but being relentless and instinctive are two of his better traits. Depending on how long Connelly remains out, Orr very well could grab ahold of the job and not let go.

Sophomore Griffin Grady (2016: 12 games, 4 tackles)

One of just six true freshmen to see the field for Wisconsin in 2016, Grady was a fixture on special teams and looked solid in mop-up time at inside linebacker. Unfortunately for him and the Badgers, the Dublin, Ohio., product has missed most of fall camp with an illness, preventing him from getting vital reps.

Junior Arrington Farrar (2016: 7 tackles, 1 forced fumble)

A safety his first two years on campus, Farrar moved to inside linebacker during spring practice for Wisconsin. The change allowed him to bulk up as opposed to constantly worrying about keeping his weight down to play in the secondary. One of Wisconsin’s key guys on special teams, Farrar admitted in the spring that redshirting in 2017 was a possibility with all the talent in front of him. That might not be the case now that Cichy’s season is over.

Redshirt freshman Mike Maskalunas (2016: redshirt)

From Long Grove, Ill., Maskalunas has the chance to be the next walk-on to hit it big at linebacker, joining the likes of Joe Schobert, Marcus Trotter, Ethan Armstrong, Cichy and Connelly. Asked what young guy stood out to him during the summer, tight end Troy Fumagalli singled out Maskalunas.

“He’s a hard worker, puts his head down, does the right things,” Fumagalli said on ‘The Camp.’ “He’s got a bunch of talent in front of him. You might not see him right away. People might speculate [about his future]. But if he keeps on the same path of working hard and follows those guys in front of him, I think he’s going to be a really good player one day.”

LB Jack Cichy to miss 2017 season

MADISON — Wisconsin has lost senior linebacker Jack Cichy for the 2017 season.

The school announced Wednesday morning that the former walk-on had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during practice on Tuesday. Cichy will undergo surgery in Chicago on Friday.

“You hate it for Jack,” coach Paul Chryst said in a statement released by the school . “You only get so many chances to play this game and you never want to see a guy miss any of those opportunities. He’s one of the leaders of our team and I know he’ll be a big part of what we do moving forward this season.”

The Somerset, Wis., native went down clutching his right knee without being touched during a drill Tuesday night. He walked off under his own power and later returned to practice but was clearly still bothered by it.

Inside linebacker is among the deepest positions on Wisconsin’s roster. Junior T.J. Edwards is entering his third year as a starter, junior Ryan Connelly started the final seven games of last season and sophomore Chris Orr started six games a true freshman in 2015.

Cichy, named a captain by his teammates, missed the final seven games of last year after tearing his left pectoral. Despite that, he still earned All-Big Ten honorable mention by racking up 60 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

Wisconsin LB Chris Orr receives medical redshirt

MADISON — Wisconsin is focused on the 2017 season, but the school got some good news for its future on Wednesday.

Team officials said linebacker Chris Orr, who was injured at the beginning of last season, got his medical redshirt approved by the NCAA. Though it was thought to be a foregone conclusion he would receive the year, the paperwork makes it official, and it leaves him a redshirt sophomore with three years of eligibility remaining.

Orr started six games a freshman in 2015 and was in the lineup at the beginning of 2016 against LSU when his knee buckled on the first defensive snap of the year. It proved to be a torn ACL and kept him out the rest of the season and all of spring practice. Orr returned to the field this week when the team opened fall camp and hasn’t been restricted at all outside of having to wear a knee brace.

The Texas native is currently playing with the second-team defense at inside linebacker behind senior Jack Cichy and junior T.J. Edwards.

Wisconsin opens the season Sept. 1 against Utah State at Camp Randall Stadium.

Once Jack Cichy stopped feeling sorry for himself, he turned his season-ending injury into a positive

CHICAGO — As Jack Cichy sat on the team bus outside of Ryan Field last November, the Wisconsin linebacker couldn’t help but think how much his fortunes had changed in just three weeks time.

His team had just finished off a 21-7 win against Northwestern, but Cichy’s mind floated back to Oct. 15 when he put on a show in a 30-23 overtime loss to No. 6 Ohio State. The then-junior finished with 15 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack. Several scouts, including the NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, raved on social media about Cichy, whose profile was on the rise. A week later his breakout season was over, done in by a torn pectoral muscle suffered against Iowa.

“In the weeks leading up to the injury, I [was gaining] more notoriety,” Cichy said Monday at Big Ten media days. “And then to have it all come crashing down, [was tough]. Having all that notoriety one day and the next day you’re kind of off in the shadows, was weird. That was definitely very trying.”

It was as if he was rolling along at 90 miles per hour and hit a brick wall, with the mental anguish on par with the physical.

“I was down in the dumps, man. It was tough,” Cichy said of the weeks after the injury. “I was not in a good place. Feeling sorry for myself. And mentally, not as strong as I would have liked. It really tested me a lot.”

LISTEN: Jack Cichy on the difficulty the coaches will have in deciding who will start at inside linebacker

It’s usually at this point in the story that someone like Cichy would have a conversation with a coach or a teammate or a family member that would all of a sudden set him on the right path mentally. But that’s not what happened. Instead, Cichy just opened up his eyes to what was around him, which resulted in what he called an epiphany.

“I saw I had teammates that were supporting me. I had a team that was winning. I had coaches that really cared about me and family that stuck by me,” Cichy said.

“As selfish as I was those first two weeks [after the injury], at the same time I got to be around football every day. I got to be around the facilities. I got to remember that I was blessed with the opportunity to [be a] part of one of the best programs in college football. Just being able to appreciate that, day in and day out, and kind of help anyway I could, that’s really what got the ball rolling as far as my mental state and the rehab itself.”

When Cichy stopped feeling sorry for himself, his rehab took off. By the time spring practice rolled around in March, he claimed to be 100 percent recovered — a month earlier than expected. The former walk-on was kept out of full contact drills but still had a huge presence throughout the 15 practices, especially vocally. That, along with what he called the most productive summer he’s had at Wisconsin, led to his teammates voting him as one of their five captains.

LISTEN: Paul Chryst says his message hasn’t changed despite outside expectations going up.

All of the work has him feeling the best he ever has and positioned him for what could potentially be a big senior year that will result in the team being successful and him moving on to the NFL — something that he was thinking about last year before the injury.

“Me and my dad…really talked about it. We were kind of on the same page (that a conversation about leaving or staying likely would have been needed),” Cichy said. “My mom, on the other hand, she was very opposed to even [having] the discussion, even though it was a real discussion.

“In hindsight, I’m really glad I never had to face that decision. Obviously, the injury sucked, but a lot of good has come out of it. And I’m really excited to showcase all that.”

Being named captains is special for former walk-ons Jack Cichy and Troy Fumagalli

CHICAGO — Wisconsin’s walk-on tradition has become a well known contributor to the Badgers success since former coach Barry Alvarez arrived in 1990. From Joe Panos early in Alvarez’s tenure to Donnell Thompson, Jim Leonhard, J.J. Watt, Jared Abbrederis and many more, the school has thrived at finding under the radar players, developing them and watching them become stars.

Many have gone on to be captains and leaders on a number of the more successful teams in program history. That will be the case again in 2017, as former walk-ons Jack Cichy and Troy Fumagalli were named team captains on Monday.

“It means a lot to me especially because it was voted on by our players,” Fumagalli said. “I always think about the responsibility that comes with it. It’s cool they named me that. It’s my chance to be the best player and teammate I can be.

LISTEN: Jack Cichy joins ‘The Camp’ at Big Ten media days.

Cichy and Fumagalli earned their scholarships prior to the 2015 season and have been key players in helping the Badgers win 21 games the last two years.

One of the top tight ends in the country, Fumagalli led Wisconsin with 47 catches in 2016, while Cichy burst onto the scene late in 2015, including back-to-back-to-back sacks in the Holiday Bowl. The senior was off to a big start last season before suffering a torn left pectoral muscle and missing the rest of the year.

LISTEN: Troy Fumagalli joins ‘The Camp’ to talk about his legacy at Wisconsin and more

“It means a lot,” Cichy said at Big Ten media days. “I’m super appreciative, and I know a huge responsibility comes with that. Being an instate kid, being a walk-on, to earn the respect of my peers and teammates, have them vote me into that, it’s a great honor. And I know it’s all for naught if I don’t take the responsibility and be up to the challenge.”

The pair will be joined as captains by safety D’Cota Dixon, center Michael Deiter and defensive lineman Conor Sheehy.

Wisconsin picked to win the B1G West

Writers that cover the Big Ten either really like Wisconsin or really have a low opinion of the Big Ten West. Either way, the Badgers are the overwhelming favorite to win their division for a third time in four years.

Cleveland.com polled 38 media members that cover the conference, and 31 picked Wisconsin to repeat in the West, while five had Northwestern and two chose Nebraska. In the East, Ohio State was also the pick of most, garnering 34 first-place votes, with defending Big Ten champion Penn State getting seven votes and Michigan getting one.

As for the title game, just four of the 31 writers that picked Wisconsin to make it there actually had them winning in Indianapolis. Three had the Badgers beating Ohio State and another had them over Penn State.

Overall, Ohio State was picked to win the Big Ten championship by 29 of the writers.

The poll also asked which teams would make the College Football Playoff, and Wisconsin got four votes as the only Big Ten team to make it, while one voter had Wisconsin and Ohio State both making it.

The writers also voted on offensive and defensive players of the year, with a first-place vote counting for three points, a second-place vote counting for two points and a third-place vote counting for one point.

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley was the runaway winner on offense, garnering 103 points and 30 first-place votes. Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook received two points and tight end Troy Fumagalli got one.

On defense, Ohio State defensive end Tyquan Lewis managed just beat out Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell – 61 points to 59 points. Wisconsin linebackers Jack Cichy (10 points, 1 first-place vote) and T.J. Edwards (7 points, 1 first-place vote) finished seventh and 10th respectively in the voting.

Full results via Cleveland.com:

BIG TEN EAST

1. Ohio State, 260 points (34 first-place votes)
2. Penn State, 231.5 (7)
3. Michigan, 192 (1)
4. Michigan State, 128
5. Indiana, 114
6. Maryland, 100.5
7. Rutgers, 38
(first-place votes equal more than 38 because of some ties for first)

BIG TEN WEST

1. Wisconsin, 259 points (31 first-place votes)
2. Northwestern, 219 (5)
3. Nebraska, 176.5 (2)
4. Iowa, 164.5
5. Minnesota, 131
6. Purdue, 57
6. Illinois, 57

Here were the predictions for the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis on Dec. 2.

Ohio State over Wisconsin (22)
Ohio State over Northwestern (5)
Ohio State over Nebraska (2)
Wisconsin over Ohio State (3)
Wisconsin over Penn State (1)
Penn State over Wisconsin (4)
Michigan over Wisconsin (1)

BIG TEN PRESEASON OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State RB, 103 points (30 first-place votes)
2. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State QB, 59 points (5)
3. Trace McSorley, Penn State QB, 30 points (2)
4. Justin Jackson, Northwestern RB, 25 points (1)
5. Mike Weber, Ohio State RB, 2 points
5. L.J. Scott, Michigan State RB, 2 points
5. Alex Hornibrook, Wisconsin QB, 2 points
5. Rodney Smith, Minnesota RB, 2 points
9. Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin TE, 1 point
9. Simmie Cobbs, Indiana WR, 1 point
9. Jamarco Jones, Ohio State LT, 1 point

PRESEASON BIG TEN DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

1. Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State DE, 61 points (11 first-place votes)
2. Josey Jewell, Iowa LB, 59 points (12)
3. Rashan Gary, Michigan DE, 23 points (3)
4. Tegray Scales, Indiana LB, 19 points (4)
5. Jerome Baker, Ohio State LB, 12 points (2)
6. Sam Hubbard, Ohio State DE, 11 points (2)
7. Jack Cichy, Wisconsin LB, 10 points (1)
8. Maurice Hurst, Michigan DT, 9 points (1)
9. Marcus Allen, Penn State S, 9 points
10. T.J. Edwards, Wisconsin LB, 7 points (1)
11. Nick Bosa, Ohio State, DE 4 points (1)
12. Godwin Igwebuike, Northwestern S, 2 points
13. Steven Richardson, Minnesota DT, 1 point
13. Blessuan Austin, Rutgers CB, 1 point

Cichy, Edwards named to Butkus Award watch list

MADISON — Wisconsin saw two more of its players named to an award watch list on Monday.

Inside linebackers Jack Cichy and T.J. Edwards were each featured on the Butkus Award watch list — an honor that goes to the best linebacker in the country.

This is the fourth preseason watch list Cichy has been on, joining the Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy (best defender), and the Lott IMPACT Trophy (best defensive player in character and performance). Cichy was leading the Badgers in tackles last fall when he suffered a torn left pectoral in the seventh game and missed the rest of the year.

Edwards, meanwhile, ended up leading Wisconsin in tackles for a second-straight year. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten for his efforts, and ESPN’s Mel Kiper lists the junior as the second-best linebacker eligible for the 2018 NFL Draft.

Cichy and Edwards are two of Wisconsin’s representatives for Big Ten Media Days in Chicago on July 24th and 25th.

Big Ten announces attendees for media days

MADISON — Wisconsin is bringing three familiar faces to Big Ten Media Days later this month.

On Tuesday, the conference announced the 42 attendees for the annual event, and the featured Badgers will be linebackers Jack Cichy and T.J. Edwards, along with tight end Troy Fumagalli.

Edwards has led the Badgers in tackles in his first two years as a starter, earning All-Big Ten honorable each season, while Cichy, before getting injured midway through 2016, was having one of the best years of any linebacker in the conference and was also All-Big Ten honorable mention.

Fumagalli, meanwhile, is considered among the best tight ends in the conference and the country, with many believing he could end up as a first-team All-American in his final year. He caught 47 passes for 580 yards and two touchdowns last season, and earned second-team All-Big ten honors from the coaches.

The two-day event will take place July 24 and 25 at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place and Convention Center in Chicago.

The three players, along with coach Paul Chryst, will go through interviews and photo shoots on Monday with six other teams. The other seven teams in the conference will do the same on Tuesday.

Wisconsin Spring Game: Defense 20, Offense 17

MADISON — In a spring game missing nearly every marquee player on Wisconsin’s roster, the defense prevailed over the offense 20-17 Friday night at Camp Randall Stadium.

Playing the game under the lights for the first time, a crowd of 8,095 were treated to a practice segment followed by an hour-long game with a running clock, played mostly by backups, including at quarterback where freshmen Jack Coan and Kare Lyles got all the snaps with sophomore Alex Hornibrook looking on.

The defense, which could rack up points through sacks, three-and-outs and forcing turnovers, held the offense out of the end zone until the final play from scrimmage, as Coan found tight end Zander Neuville for an 8-yard touchdown.

Though it was difficult to take much of anything from the game itself, it was the culmination of 15 practices, all of which were open to the media.

Here, then, are some of our thoughts on what we saw over the last month.

1) Backup quarterback is a concern

Wisconsin returns 15 starters from last year’s 11-3 squad that won the Big Ten West, and many are picking the Badgers to do it again. And while we’ll acknowledge it’s only April, the chances of them repeating would likely be derailed if there’s an injury at the quarterback spot.

Hornibrook had a solid spring and is the unquestioned leader of the offense. But not since Russell Wilson took every meaningful snap in 2011 has Wisconsin not needed their backup quarterback at some point.

Coan, who should still be a senior in high school right now, looked solid on Friday and generally outperformed Kare Lyles this spring, especially during the scrimmage portions. That bodes well for him, but it also came mostly against the second- and third-team defense. Both guys need to take a big jump this summer to be ready if Hornibrook were to go down.

2) Finding a left tackle

The offensive line has a chance to be as good as its been since 2014, but the Badgers need to solidify the left tackle spot vacated by All-American Ryan Ramczyk. Sophomore David Edwards, who started eight games at right tackle last year, moved to the left side this spring and was OK. An ankle injury sidelined him late, and it led the Badgers to move junior Michael Deiter into his spot. Deiter has started games at center and guard during his career, and coach Paul Chryst said it’s entirely possible he could add tackle to the list when the season starts.

“Whatever we have to do to get the best five on the field,” Chryst said of their mindset. “The more guys can do, play different spots, whether it be right side, left side, center, guard or tackle, it’s helpful.”

Depending on how the summer goes, it would not be a surprise to see Deiter at left tackle, with sophomore Jon Dietzen at left guard, highly regarded redshirt freshman Tyler Biadasz at center, junior Beau Benzschawel at right guard and Edwards back at right tackle, and then having experienced backups in juniors Micah Kapoi and Jake Maxwell, and up-and-coming freshmen Cole Van Lanen and Patrick Kasl.

3) The defensive line is stacked

No position group on the team has more experience than the defensive line where they return their top six players from last season and are even deeper this time around.

Redshirt freshman Isaiahh Loudermilk spent most of the spring in the offensive backfield, and sophomore Garrett Rand got a ton of reps and found a home at defensive end. Both guys are going to push seniors Alec James, Conor Sheehy and Chikwe Obasih for playing time this fall and be the face of the defensive line once those guys exhaust their eligibility.

4) Expectations haven’t changed on defense

Despite losing All-Big Ten players like T.J. Watt, Vince Biegel and Sojourn Shelton, along with Team MVP Leo Musso, the Wisconsin defense isn’t expecting any kind of drop off from what it accomplished last year, or for that matter, the last four seasons when the Badgers have become one of the elite units in the country.

“None of us are going to have that diminish on our watch,” senior linebacker Jack Cichy said of the defense’s almost unparalleled success in Wisconsin history. “I guess if you want to say it would tarnish our legacy, it would. But we don’t really think about it like that. We’re better than that. This program can’t have any fall off just because how far it has come. I just don’t think we as a defense would allow (it).”

Wisconsin came into the spring needing to find four new starters and it appears they have. Hawaii transfer Nick Nelson has stepped into Shelton’s cornerback spot, while senior Natrell Jamerson made the move from cornerback to safety and worked with the No. 1 unit all spring in the place occupied by Musso a year ago. Instead of Watt and Biegel at outside linebacker, it’s seniors Garrett Dooley and Leon Jacobs, both of whom had very good springs, while sophomore Zack Baun and junior college transfer Andrew Van Ginkel will see time as well.

As for other key spots, a battle for the third cornerback job will play itself out in fall camp with the favorites being redshirt freshman Dontye Carriere-Williams and senior Lubern Figaro. The Badgers also need to figure out how to best use their ridiculous depth at inside linebacker where Cichy and sophomore Chris Orr return from injuries to battle two-year starter T.J. Edwards and superb fill-in Ryan Connelly.

When everything is said and done, it’s possible that the 2017 defense could match or even surpass what the 2016 group did.

5) Just fine at running back

Wisconsin lost a lot of production with Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale moving on to the next phase of their careers, but it appears they won’t hurt for options to fill the void.

Sophomore Bradrick Shaw isn’t overly flashy, but his one cut and go style is perfect for the offense. Then you’ve got junior Chris James, who is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, and will be big in the passing game and on third down. Add in what the Badgers hope is a healthy Taiwan Deal this fall, along with incoming freshman Jonathan Taylor, and things are looking just fine in the backfield.

A somewhat informed guess at Wisconsin’s depth chart:

  First-team Second-team
OFFENSE
QB Alex Hornibrook (RS SO) Jack Coan (FR) OR Kare Lyles (RS FR)
RB Bradrick Shaw (RS SO) OR Chris James (JR) Taiwan Deal (JR)
FB Alec Ingold (JR) Austin Ramesh (SR)
WR Jazz Peavy (SR) A.J. Taylor (SO)
WR Quintez Cephus (SO) Kendric Pryor (SO) OR George Rushing (SR)
TE Troy Fumagalli (SR) Zander Neuville (JR)
TE Kyle Penniston (RS SO) Luke Benzschawel (RS FR)
LT David Edwards (RS SO) Cole Van Lanen (RS FR)
LG Jon Dietzen (RS SO) Micah Kapoi (JR)
C Michael Deiter (JR) Tyler Biadasz (RS FR)
RG Beau Benzschawel (JR) Micah Kapoi (JR)
RT Patrick Kasl (RS FR) OR Jake Maxwell (JR) David Moorman (RS SO)
 
DEFENSE
DE Chikwe Obasih (SR) OR Alec James (SR) Garrett Rand (SO)
NT Olive Sagapolu (JR) Billy Hirschfeld (JR)
DE Conor Sheehy (SR) Isaiahh Loudermilk (RS FR)
OLB Garrett Dooley (SR) Andrew Van Ginkel (JR)
ILB Jack Cichy (SR) Chris Orr (RS SO)
ILB T.J. Edwards (JR) Ryan Connelly (JR)
OLB Leon Jacobs (SR) Zack Baun (RS SO)
CB Derrick Tindal (SR) Lubern Figaro (SR)
S D’Cota Dixon (SR) Joe Ferguson (SR)
S Natrell Jamerson (SR) Patrick Johnson (SO)
CB Nick Nelson (JR) Dontye Carriere-Williams (RS FR)
     
Kicker Rafael Gaglianone (JR) Zach Hintze (RS SO)
Punter Anthony Lotti (SO) P.J. Rosowski (JR)

 

Final stats:

Preview: No. 7 Nebraska at No. 11 Wisconsin

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 7 Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-0, 4-0) vs the No. 11 Wisconsin Badgers (5-2 2-2)

The time: 6 p.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.

The TV coverage: ESPN with Joe Tessitore and Todd Blackledge in the booth, and Holly Rowe on the sideline.

The last time: Kicker Rafael Gaglianone hit a 46-yard field goal with 4 seconds left to give Wisconsin a 23-21 win last year at Nebraska.

The series: Wisconsin 6-4

The line: Wisconsin -9.5

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

CB Natrell Jamerson (leg)

RT Jake Maxwell (shoulder)

OUT

LB Griffin Grady (shoulder)

NT Olive Sagapolu (arm)

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) One more time

The toughest start to a Big Ten season in school history continues on Saturday night for Wisconsin, as they face their fifth top-10 opponent already this year with Nebraska in town. Asking kids to continually get up for big game after big game would seem like a difficult task but this team is a little different.

“Just taking it one game at a time in all honesty,” linebacker T.J. Watt told the Big Ten Network this week on how they are handling the schedule. “I know it sounds cliché, but you have to take it one practice at a time, one play at a time, and then once it’s game day, you just have to let loose.

“Have fun with this. Not everyone gets to play in big games like this week in and week out like we do. So we just have to have fun and showcase our talents each week.”

2) Next man in — again

The seemingly never ending rash of injuries continued last week for Wisconsin, as they lost leading tackler Jack Cichy for the rest of the season with a torn pectoral muscle. The junior inside linebacker was playing at such a high level that those around the program felt he was the MVP of the defense through the first seven games.

But just as they did when Chris Orr, Natrell Jamerson, Vince Biegel and Olive Sagapolu went down earlier this year,  the Badgers will ask the next guy to step in and not have a drop-off. This time that responsibility falls to sophomore Ryan Connelly and junior Leon Jacobs.

A former walk-on, Connelly stepped in admirably against LSU in the opener, while Jacobs started the first three games at inside linebacker last year before an injury sidelined him.

“Obviously, it’s disappointing for a talented guy like Jack Cichy to go down,” Biegel said. “But it’s not going to take just Leon and Ryan to step in. It’s also going to take our whole defensive front seven to fill in for guys that go down.”

Connelly is expected to get the first crack at the starting gig, but as Wisconsin has done at outside linebacker, rotating the foursome of Biegel, Watt, Garrett Dooley and Zack Baun, don’t be surprised if Jacobs sees plenty of time next to T.J. Edwards.

3) Which Tommy Armstrong shows up

If Nebraska is to pull the upset, quarterback Tommy Armstrong will need to continue playing at the level he has so far this year. The senior’s quarterback rating of 142.3 is the highest of his career, and he’s averaging an interception just once every 37 throws, the lowest rate of his time in Lincoln.

But he’s done all of that against defenses that aren’t on Wisconsin’s level. And if history is any indication, the Badgers will give Armstrong fits. Two of his worst days as the starter at Nebraska came against UW’s 3-4 scheme. He completed just 16 of 47 throws in the 2014 and 2015 games combined — both Nebraska losses.

If the good Armstrong shows up, Nebraska should be in the game until the end, as he’s got plenty of weapons to get the ball to. But if the Tommy Armstrong of old got on the charter flight to Madison, it’s likely to be a long night for him and the Huskers offense.

4) Running game on track?

The Wisconsin running game has come alive in the past two weeks, piling up 403 yards on the ground, including 298 by running back Corey Clement. The senior’s back-to-back 100-yard games were his first since accomplishing that against Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech in his freshman season.

But it took a lot of carries to get it done. The Badgers called Clement’s number a combined 60 times in the games against Ohio State and Iowa, and if it were up to him, they’d keep giving him the ball even if taking all that contact isn’t ideal in the long term.

“I’m all for it, to be honest,” Clement said. “If they want to give me 35 carries, then so be it. (It’s) my senior season, so I’m ready to get as many carries as I can.”

It’s not just Clement, though. The offensive line is also starting to gel despite not having a clear starting lineup. They used eight guys against Iowa and six different combinations. Obviously, they’d like to find their best five guys, but until they do expect to see similar rotations.

5) The crowd

The buzz leading into the showdown with then-No. 2 Ohio State two weeks ago was at an all-time high, certainly helped by the fact ESPN’s College GameDay was in town, and it was the first Big Ten night game in Madison in five years.  And even though the Badgers lost, the atmosphere surrounding the game didn’t disappoint.

But that same juice and electricity, at least in the lead up to the game, hasn’t been as evident this week. Perhaps it’s because the novelty factor of a night game has worn off or the fact Wisconsin is so heavily favored. No matter what the reason, it’s definitely different.

Now all of this isn’t to say it won’t be a great environment on Saturday night. It will be, and the crowd will definitely help Wisconsin. But expecting something like we saw when the Buckeyes came to town is probably not in the cards.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

  • Wisconsin’s defense has held their last 10 opponents under their season scoring average
  • The Badgers used eight different offensive linemen last week against Iowa and six different offensive line combinations
  • Wisconsin has outscored Nebraska 107 to 41 in their last two meetings at Camp Randall Stadium
  • In their last 13 trophy games, the Badgers are 12-1, including a perfect 2-0 against Nebraska in the battle for the Freedom Trophy

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 31, Nebraska 17 (3-4 on the season)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 27, Nebraska 13 (4-3 on the season)
Jake Zimmermann’s prediction: Wisconsin 24, Nebraska 13 (5-2 on the season)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 24, Nebraska 13 (4-3 on the season)
Eric Rogers’ prediction: Wisconsin 28, Nebraska 20 (5-2 on the season)