MADISON — The No. 10 Wisconsin Badgers will travel to Iowa City with their emotional leader and team captain, but a big presence in the middle of their defense will not play.
Senior outside linebacker Vince Biegel is expected to return to the field Saturday for the Badgers (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) against the Hawkeyes (5-2, 3-1) at Kinnick Stadium, but UW will also be without nose tackle Olive Sagapolu.
Biegel missed the last two games due to a fractured foot. His presence will provide a boost on the field for a defense already ranked ninth in the nation in scoring defense and 12th in total defense.
“Vince has practiced all week, so we’re planning on playing him,” head coach Paul Chryst said on Thursday.
Through four games, Biegel has recorded nine tackles, two for loss, and has registered one sack. Those numbers may not pop, but opposing offenses need to game plan for both him and redshirt junior outside linebacker T.J. Watt as the edge rushers in Wisconsin’s 3-4 scheme.
His return will also help in the depth of the position group, as redshirt freshman Zack Baun, who’s played significantly in the first six games, was ruled out with a left leg injury.
“Vince is always ready to go, and I’ve loved what he did to get himself to this point,” Chryst said. “He gets an opportunity to play.”
Along with Baun, it wasn’t all good news on the injury front. The loss of Sagapolu, a 6’2, 340-pound sophomore, hurts a stable defensive line that’s been highly underrated this season.
Despite no senior breaking the two-deep, junior defensive ends Alec James, Chikwe Obasih and Conor Sheehy have led the line the past two-plus seasons. James has seen the growth of the second-year player that’s anchored the middle of the offensive line.
“It was real cool, because we were watching the Iowa film from last year, and we got to see Olive play and just see how much he’s grown since last year,” James said on Wednesday, before the news of Sagapolu’s absence was confirmed. “See his hand place and his footwork and everything. He’s come such a long way, and we’re definitely happy to have him.”
The defensive front will have to compensate without Sagapolu against an Iowa running game averaging 180 yards per game. Seventeen of the Hawkeyes’ 29 touchdowns have been on the ground.
Running backs Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels are both close to 600 yards rushing and have combined for 14 rushing touchdowns.
“One thing about that group that is really cool is they are a tough group and a prideful group,” Chryst said. “They know they’ve got to step up their game to keep the pride of that room.
“We’re going to be challenged from Iowa, but that group’s got to come together, and they will—that’s kind of who they are.”
Behind Sagapolu, the Badgers will have to rely on Garrett Rand, the 6’2, 274-pound true freshman who is listed as the team’s No. 2 nose guard. Redshirt sophomore Billy Hirschfeld’s also received some time at that position and could be utilized in that role.
“[Rand]’s faster than I expected,” James said. “He’s playing with that effort that we like, so he’s doing a great job.”
Redshirt freshman left guard Jon Dietzen (right leg) and senior wide receiver Robert Wheelwright (right leg) are still listed as questionable, and their statuses were not confirmed for Saturday.
Wheelwright has caught 20 passes for 310 yards, and has formed a productive duo with redshirt junior Jazz Peavy. His absence could hurt a passing game facing all-conference cornerback Desmond King and the Iowa secondary.
Sophomore fullback Alec Ingold (left arm) was added to Thursday’s injury list as questionable. Redshirt junior Austin Ramesh has played well this season, and would be utilized more if the former state prep player of the year from Green Bay can’t play.