MADISON – Playing without one of their senior leaders, junior linebacker Jack Cichy was adamant that the Wisconsin linebackers were going to press on and not have a drop off in production. It was a bold statement but one that came mainly out of fear.
“We knew if we had a falloff Vince would let us hear about it,” Cichy said.
It turns out that Vince Biegel has been pretty quiet with his criticisms the last two games. Facing the two top teams in the Big Ten East division without its best player isn’t ideal, let alone two offenses that averaged over 50 points per game, but Wisconsin held both No.4 Michigan and No.2 Ohio State to a combined 39 regulation points by forcing turnovers, delivering pressures and keeping things disjointed.
And now the Badgers have a chance to get Biegel back this weekend when they travel to Iowa (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) for Wisconsin’s third conference tilt in four games.
Biegel, who has not spoken to the media since having surgery on his right foot Sept.29, was upgraded from out to questionable on Monday’s injury report and returned to practice Tuesday. Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said Biegel’s status would be determined based on his senior’s health and week of practice.
Even without Biegel, Wisconsin (4-2, 1-2) held Michigan to 130 rushing yards, Ohio State without a 100-yard rusher and were in position to win both games in the fourth quarter.
“Losing Vince was a big, big blow,” Cichy said, “but it was all about who was going to rise up and combat that.”
One of those players is junior T.J. Watt. Averaging 4.5 tackles the first four games of the season, Watt registered 16 tackles in the two games with Biegel on the sidelines. That includes 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one quarterback hurry and a career-high 11 tackles at Michigan.
“Early on when he was gone, there was a key emphasis not to try to do (too much),” Watt said. “I know in the Michigan game early on where I was trying to do a little bit too much, you lose contain, you try to (cover) two gap when you don’t even have your gap alone. As we say all the time, trust the guys on the back end. We’ve got better at it.”
In Cichy’s eyes, junior Garret Dooley – Biegel’s replacement - has brought things to the table Biegel can’t, such as an element of surprise to teams trying to game plan for a player who doesn’t have a lot of plays on film.
“In the weight room, Dools is one of the biggest guys,” Cichy said. “He’s physical, he can throw weight around and he translates that very well. He uses his technique. Coach (Tim) Tibesar and the outside linebackers work on technique every day in practice. He implements that in the game. There’s no real lag time with him. He’s able to use some of the pass rush moves or edge setting moves that really helps the inside backers. He sets that edge and things will funnel right back to me and T.J. Edwards’ lap.”
Players interviewed Wednesday hinted that Biegel would return to the lineup Saturday, although no official announcement has been made. Although the group has survived without him, they know they are certainly better with him.
“I don’t think we necessary want to replace (Vince), but we’re going to miss some of the things that he does,” Cichy said. “It’s a little different out there, but we try not to let it affect us.”
Although he’s rushed for over 2,000 yards in this career, senior tailback Corey Clement had rarely delivered the big numbers against the big teams. Entering Saturday, Clement has played 13 games against ranked teams in his four year career and rushed for 574 yards (44.2 per game) and three touchdowns on 136 carries; his best performance being 105 yards and 15 carries in the 2015 Outback Bowl.
Suffice it to say Clement needed Saturday’s 164-yard rushing night against the Buckeyes.
“I feel like I needed that game for everything,” Clement said. “I was wondering when the time was going to come. For it to come against Ohio State, a very tough opponent, I just tried to do what I could. Lucky the preparation leading up to that game allowed us to really have a productive game. That production needs to carry on against Iowa.”
Averaging only 79.8 yards coming into last week’s game, Clement has been hard on himself for lacking patience, running into plays before his offensive line could set up the play. Even though the offensive line is still going through growing pains, Clement has refused to point the finger.
“As a running back you have to learn to make your alignment right,” Clement said. “Not everything is going to be perfect all the time, but if you allow the play to set up, and really take ownership of your craft and be patient to it, great things can happen.”
Although its front is not in the same category as the one’s at Michigan and Ohio State, Iowa’s defense held Purdue to 46 yards on 22 carries last week.
Wisconsin was held to 86 team rushing yards in a 10-6 home loss to the Hawkeyes last season, a game Clement watched from Germany while recovery from sports hernia surgery.
“Iowa is known for (its) tough caliber, especially in the secondary,” Clement said. “You’ve got (cornerback) Desmond King, who is a N.F.L. caliber player. He’s one to look at. We’re taking these type of practices and really taking scout team serious. We really got to take advantage of the reps we get and put them to focus.”
Ramesh Delivering in Three Phases
Having to fill the big shoes left by four-year starter Derek Watt, junior fullback Austin Ramesh has taken command of the position. Beating out sophomore Alec Ingold (who had six rushing touchdowns last year) in camp, Ramesh has been a weapon in the run, pass and blocking game. Entering this weekend, Ramesh is sixth on the team with 43 rushing yards but second with two rushing touchdowns.
His four-yard touchdown carry in the fourth quarter against Ohio State was the first rushing touchdown the Buckeyes have given up all season.
“He’s proven he can play at this level,” running back John Settle said. “I’ve been impressed with the way he can block, the way he runs the ball and the way he catches it. He’s done a heck of a job adjusting to things.”