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Bucky’s 5th Quarter’s Fifth Quarter: Ryan Connelly again a key presence on defense

Yes, this is a(nother) walk-on appreciation column.

Matt Fleming

While on his way to media availability last Monday, redshirt senior Ryan Connelly was informed he was named as one of 10 semifinalists for the Butkus Award. After Wisconsin’s 31–17 win over Rutgers on Saturday, the inside linebacker admitted he was taken aback.

“I was kind of surprised because they told me as I was walking down to talk to media,” Connelly said. “I mean, it’s pretty special. Honestly, I don’t know how they go about choosing anything. Definitely, it means a bit to me.”

In his time at Wisconsin, Connelly has emerged from unknown walk-on to playmaker in one of the best inside linebacking tandems in the nation with fellow redshirt senior T.J. Edwards. Those two players have shined this season on a defensive unit filled with youth and rife with injuries.

Through nine games, Connelly leads the team with 65 tackles. He also has recorded seven tackles for loss (second on the team behind Edwards’s 8.5), is tied for second in sacks with two, and has registered five quarterback hurries (third behind Zack Baun (seven) and Andrew Van Ginkel (six).

“Ryan is a tackling machine. That dude is a beast,” redshirt senior safety D’Cota Dixon said. “He plays fast, which makes it easier for me. When he can play fast, I’m allowed to go fast, so I really feel like that’s a good one-two punch for him and T.J. in there because they both play that fast.

“Ryan, he’s just been a tackling machine. Really just being a leader, being an example of making those plays when we need it, especially causing pressures, whatever it is. He’s been kind of that anchor for us.”

On Saturday, Connelly led the team in tackles (eight) and also recorded a tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry. That tackle for loss came on a reverse in the third quarter that the Eden Prairie, Minn., native sniffed out, dropping Rutgers wide receiver Bo Melton for a six-yard loss. That play stuck out to redshirt sophomore Eric Burrell.

“Ryan and T.J. Edwards, they are different. I’m just honored that I got to go out there and play with them,” Burrell said. “They do take a load off of me, as far as anyone pretty much. They make plays that you wouldn’t think any some regular linebacker would make.

“Like today on the reverse, Ryan shot the gap. That’s just off of instincts. I mean, I don’t know, I’m speechless with those two.”

Though the unit did not register a sack in the game, it was credited with four quarterback hurries while laying some hits, which can make a difference.

“I think it for sure affects him, and then they start getting the ball out earlier, which is just a little bit less time for our DBs that need to cover,” Connelly said. “Even if we’re not getting home necessarily, if we’re rushing his mechanics, rushing his throw or rushing his decision making, it definitely helps.”

Wisconsin gave up 17 points and 333 yards to a struggling Rutgers program in the win, though 14 and 143 of those, respectively, came in the fourth quarter when the game’s outcome was all but certain. In the first half, the Scarlet Knights only gained 111 yards and did not score a point.

Connelly and Edwards played a significant role in the defense’s performance, with the latter also recording seven tackles and two pass break-ups on the day. Their play continues an impressive trend by the dynamic duo, as Connelly led the team in tackles last year (88) and Edwards was second on the team (81). Both tied for second in tackles for loss (11).

When asked what type of tandem they make, Connelly looks at the experience between the two.

“I think it’s just the fact that we’ve played together so long and we know each other,” Connelly said. “We’re always out there on the field talking. We’re always able to communicate. I just think when you have that as a unit, then eventually that leads to a defense, that’s when you start playing great football.”

Game balls

Jonathan Taylor, Taiwan Deal

Taylor ran for 208 yards on 27 carries with three touchdowns. Deal ran for 77 yards on nine attempts. Their huge third quarter was critical, as 13 straight runs led to 163 yards and allowed Wisconsin to breathe easier. Also credit the offensive line (of course) for starting the second half off on the right foot, especially with second-year quarterback Jack Coan entering the game with Alex Hornibrook out with a head injury.

Ryan Connelly

Please see above.

Zack Baun

I like how the redshirt junior pressured the quarterback this week (two quarterback hurries), and though he didn’t intercept an Artur Sitkowski pass, he is starting to step up more and more alongside Van Ginkel.

Artur Sitkowski

Just for taking all of those hits. See below. Mercy.

Matt Fleming

Raheem Blackshear

I know some plays were made when the game was out of hand, but the running back led the Scarlet Knights in receiving (eight receptions, 162 yards, one touchdown).

What to watch for this week from B5Q

No live Bucky’s 5th Podcast from Bierock this week

This week, we won’t be live from our favorite Madison restaurant for our normal live show (still check them out each and every week, of course). Why? Well...

Wisconsin men’s basketball season opener vs. Coppin State (7 p.m., BTN Plus)

I’ll be at the Kohl Center for the Badgers 2018–19 opener. We have already previewed the guards and the bigs for Greg Gard’s squad plus a healthy Brad Davison, but check back with us later this week for more men’s basketball coverage.