Wisconsin Football will be without a couple of top contributors on defense when it hosts Northwestern at Camp Randall on Saturday.
The eighth-ranked Badgers will look to keep the good times rolling this weekend at home against a struggling Northwestern squad in a battle between last year’s Big Ten West champion and this season’s current favorite to take the crown.
While Wisconsin has looked like a dark horse College Football Playoff contender after three straight dominant victories, the Wildcats’ season has gotten off to a disappointing start, and at this point, their goal is to probably just find a way to scrape five wins together in order to be bowl-eligible.
Bucky is clearly the more talented team this season and should theoretically blow Northwestern out of the water, but based on how past matchups have gone between these programs in recent years, we could be in for yet another physical, hard-fought matchup.
Luckily, the Badgers continue to be in excellent health overall and are more than prepared for a slugfest. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few injuries Wisconsin fans shouldn’t be concerned about.
With that being said, let’s take a look at this week’s injury report for the Badgers.
OUT FOR SEASON
- Cade Green – Wide Receiver
- Gabe Lloyd – Tight End
- Josh Bernhagen – Long Snapper
- Scott Nelson – Safety
- Zander Neuville – Tight End
- Madison Cone – Safety
- Leo Chenal – Inside Linebacker
- Bryson Williams – Nose Tackle
- Luke Benzschawel – Tight End
Thankfully, there have not been any additional players determined to be out for the season over the last week, though the absence of Scott Nelson will be especially glaring against Northwestern with how thin the Badgers are going to be at safety for the first half of the game.
With starters Reggie Pearson and Eric Burrell not eligible until the third quarter after getting themselves tossed from the Michigan game for targeting, Madison Cone was likely poised to see some major action at safety against the Wildcats after sliding over from cornerback at the beginning of the season. However, his status for Saturday’s contest is now in doubt as a result of a left leg injury.
If Cone can’t go, Wisconsin is looking even more painfully thin than it already was on the back end of that defense. Collin Wilder will almost certainly get the start at one of the safety spots, and Jim Leonhard will be counting on him to come through with a rock-solid performance. Look for walk-ons John Torchio and Tyler Mais to join Wilder in pulling the vast majority of the weight at safety in that first half.
While that lack of depth is concerning, given how poor Northwestern’s passing attack has been so far this season, I’m not as worried as I usually would be. Additionally, Wilder is a starting-caliber player who has performed very well as a reserve so far this season, and Torchio even had an interception against Michigan last week. It’s not an ideal situation by any stretch, but I have a feeling those guys will be enough to hold the Wildcats in check for two quarters.
Luke Benzschawel remains out with that right leg injury, and we still have no idea when or if we will see him back in action this season. While the Badgers would obviously love to have him back in the lineup with how thin the depth is behind Jake Ferguson, they have managed to replace him just fine in the blocking game by utilizing more of the Jumbo and the newly-unveiled Hippo packages in the run game. Cormac Sampson has also been moved back to tight end from the offensive line to shore up the depth.
The Keeanu Benton show will continue at nose tackle this week with Bryson Williams set to miss his third-straight contest as he continues to nurse that left leg injury. The Janesville native has continued to play very well in Williams’ absence and looks more than capable of filling that starting spot in the interim, though Wisconsin would prefer to be able to have the option to rotate he and Williams and keep them fresh as we move further into Big Ten play. Gunnar Roberge is still listed as the backup on the depth chart, but if something were to happen to Benton, keep in mind the Badgers can just slide Garrett Rand inside from defensive end and give more time at end to Matt Henningsen and David Pfaff, who are both solid options.
New to the injury report is Benton’s classmate, inside linebacker Leo Chenal. Chenal has been having a phenomenal freshman season as a reserve, currently sitting in a tie for fourth place on Wisconsin’s total tackles list this season, so you hate to see that success get disrupted. That being said, the Badgers should be just fine against Northwestern at inside linebacker with an excellent trio of Chris Orr, Jack Sanborn, and Mike Maskalunas. With Chenal out, I’m hoping we will get to see his fellow true freshman Maema Njongmeta see some action. Njongmeta has emerged as one of the more exciting young players on the roster after a big fall camp, and likely would be seeing action on plenty of other Power 5 teams.