Following the University of Wisconsin’s victory at Iowa on Saturday, Jack Cichy swiftly dismissed the possibility of being out for next week’s game versus Nebraska. With his arm propped up in a sling, he simply said, ‘No,’ before a reporter had even finished asking him if he’ll miss time due to the injury that sidelined him against the Hawkeyes.
Who could blame his assertive optimism? Cichy had just played nearly an entire half of football with one arm before being pulled midway through the fourth quarter, doing his best to make plays while obviously compromised.
UW announced Monday that Cichy will miss the remainder of the season with a torn pectoral muscle, leaving the Badgers to adjust after another losing another member of their deep and talented linebacking corps.
"There were times where Jack actually threw himself into the quarterback with one arm,” UW outside linebacker Vince Biegel said. "As a competitor, it really speaks upon the character he is to not let an injury like this drag him down and bring him down.
“I knew after the game when he couldn’t lift his shoulder that he was pretty badly injured. Luckily, he was still in good spirits after the game. His energy wasn’t deterred one bit. We’re really going to need Jack’s spirit going forward the rest of the season because he is a special guy."
Cichy injured himself when making a tackle near the sideline in the final seconds of the second quarter. UW coach Paul Chryst said the redshirt junior didn’t injure himself further by playing in the second half.
Biegel made his return to the lineup Saturday after missing UW’s losses to Michigan and Ohio State with a fractured foot. Inside linebacker Chris Orr is also out for the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on the Badgers’ first defensive play of the year against LSU. Inside linebacker T.J. Edwards missed the beginning of the season because of a fractured foot suffered in the summer.
Arguably four of UW’s top five linebackers, with the exception of T.J. Watt, have missed time this season, with Orr and Cichy out for the entire season.
"He’ll still have a big impact on our team,” Chryst said of Cichy. "He’s still a part of the team, it’s just his role will be a little bit different. I love the way that he played, and he’ll come back and still be a significant part. I appreciate what he did. And yet, it’s going to be opportunities for others."
The loss of Cichy may hurt more than any other. He had emerged as one the Badgers’ best defensive players and leads UW with 60 tackles.
Amazingly, the Badgers may still have the players to avoid a serious drop off following his injury. Walk-on Ryan Connelly performed admirably against LSU when Orr and Edwards were both out, even making a crucial third-down tackle in the open field on a screen pass to running back Leonard Fournette.
Redshirt junior Leon Jacobs, who started games at inside linebacker last season, will also see his playing time increase. He was switched to fullback this offseason but moved back to inside linebacker after Orr suffered his season-ending injury.
"Both these gentlemen have game-time experience,” Biegel said of Connelly and Jacobs. "We feel confident with both these guys filling in those roles. Obviously, it’s disappointing for a talented guy like Jack Cichy to go down, but it’s not just going to take Leon and Ryan to step in. It’s also going to take our entire defensive front seven to fill in for guys who go down like Jack."
UW has also been without cornerback Natrell Jamerson (left leg) since Week 2, are currently without starting nose tackle Olive Sagapolu (right arm) and starting cornerback Derrick Tindal is questionable for Saturday’s game versus Nebraska after injuring his right leg against Iowa.
The Badgers rank in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense despite the injuries, and they can only hope to maintain that level of play with another major absence in the middle of their defense.
“It’s been a group that really enjoys playing, and when I say that, that means they take time to prepare,” Chryst said. "I think the defensive coaches have been doing a really good job of giving them plans that they can execute to give them a chance to have success. Then you’ve got to go out and you’ve got to play.
"There’s talent, and there’s a chemistry to it. I think there’s a good scheme to it. … I think it’s a combination of a lot of things that, they’ve given us the chance where we’ve been successful, but that doesn’t guarantee anything going forward."