3. ILB Ryan Connelly
Connelly is the other half of the duo in the middle of the Wisconsin defense with T.J. Edwards. Currently, he’s second on the team in tackles and leads the team in tackles for loss with 4.5. Connelly also has one of Wisconsin’s three sacks on the season. That team total won’t jump out at anybody but its worth mentioning that Connelly was able to get one of them.
My favorite part about Connelly’s game is whenever I see his number 43 jersey in pursuit of a ball carrier I know the play is about to be over. He’s a sure tackler and takes the best angle to the ball every single time. When the opposing team is running the ball, Connelly is going to get a great jump on it and he’s always going to be one of the first defenders to the play, likely getting there before it ever develops.
Connelly put this skill on display against Iowa on a third-and-short play near the end zone. Iowa ran the ball to the outside and Connelly was the lead blocker’s assignment. Most linebackers would have eaten the blocker and trusted another defender to clean up the play. Not Connelly. He blew through the blocker and took down the ball carrier for a significant loss.
Had Connelly not made that play, either Iowa was going to get the first down or the ball carrier would have gotten back near the original line of scrimmage and Kirk Ferentz could have tried to go for the short fourth down again. It was a huge stop on top of being a physically impressive play that only a handful of players in the country could have made.