Banged-up Badgers likely to get some players back vs. Northwestern

Wisconsin Badgers safety Evan Bondoc (13) celebrates an interception during the second quarter against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

— By Tamira Madsen, The Sports Xchange —

Injuries have plagued starters this season for No. 20 Wisconsin, but replacements have done well in wake of player absences.

Redshirt senior strong safety Evan Bondoc, a Madison native and former walk-on, had an interception, a forced fumble and five tackles (1.5 for loss) in Wisconsin’s win against Illinois last weekend.

The Madison native and former walk-on started in place of senior D’Cota Dixon, who was sidelined with a right foot injury.

The Badgers (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten Conference) likely will get a few players back and see others sit on the bench when they face West Division opponent Northwestern (5-3, 5-1) on Saturday at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill.

Bondoc said he prepares the same each week, whether he watches from the sideline or lines up on the field.

“You’ve got to prepare like you’re going to play because we have a (high) standard, as a room, and we want to keep that no matter who was on the field,” Bondoc said.

Redshirt sophomore safety Eric Burrell forced a fumble against Illinois and had 11 tackles in the Badgers’ loss at Michigan, stepping in for freshman safety Scott Nelson (right leg).

Dixon and Nelson are listed as questionable for Saturday’s game in Evanston, along with senior nose tackle Olive Sagapolu, who suffered an apparent left ankle injury of the Illinois game.

Sagapolu was tackled after he intercepted Illinois quarterback MJ Rivers in the second quarter.

Sagapolu didn’t play the remainder of the game, and Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said their taking a day-by-day approach for the Wildcats game.

“We’ll kind of wait and see what happens as the week progresses,” Chryst said of Sagapolu.

Redshirt junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook and sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor remain healthy and productive for Wisconsin.

Hornibrook completed 13 of 22 passes for 188 yards, and had three touchdowns and two interceptions over the Illini.

Taylor had 27 carries for 164 yards, while senior running back Taiwan Del had 12 carries for 111 yards.

The Badgers are ranked fourth nationally in rushing at 282.1 yards per game.

Meanwhile, Northwestern has won three straight games, and rallied to beat Nebraska and Rutgers in its last two games.

The Wildcats are banged up on offense, with senior running back Solomon Vault and junior running back John Moten IV being sidelined with injuries.

Freshman running back Isaiah Bowser got the chance to shine, as the young player was the driving force in the Wildcats’ 18-15 win over Rutgers.

Bowser scored two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter, and collected a career-high 24 carries for 108 yards.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is seeking consistency with a Wildcats offense that had 278 total yards against Rutgers and 482, in overtime, over Nebraska.

One of the top people that Fitzgerald expects regular, solid performances is senior quarterback Clayton Thorson, who has been the team’s starter for three-plus seasons.

Thorson fumbled, was sacked in the end zone by Rutgers, which gained two points on the play, and completed 17 of 34 passes for 150 and no touchdowns. That effort occurred after two stellar performances — with six touchdowns in each game — over then-No. 20 Michigan State and Nebraska.

Fitzgerald said he’s not looking ahead to whether any team can contend against Wisconsin for the top spot in the West Division standings.

“We’re just really inconsistent right now, especially on offense,” Fitzgerald said. “The pedal’s down for me. That’s my job. I’ve got to get it fixed. I’ve got to get us to play more consistently.”

Fitzgerald has a great amount of respect for the Badgers offensive line, in addition to Taylor and Deal, and others who help Wisconsin’s ground game.

“I love what they do; they stick to their system and do it really well,” he said. “They’re very physical up front. If it was just (Taylor), it would be a little bit easier, but they have a three-headed monster at running back.”

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