University of Wisconsin inside linebacker Ryan Connelly will miss the final game of his Badgers career.
UW coach Paul Chryst said Friday that Connelly underwent a procedure for an injury he played through over the final four games of the regular season, which will keep him out of the Badgers’ contest against Miami in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 27. Chryst did not provide the specifics of Connelly’s injury.
Connelly could be selected in the 2019 NFL Draft, and Chryst said the senior’s absence from the Pinstripe Bowl was not due to protecting his professional future.
“That had nothing to do with it,” Chryst said. “It was just, could he go this game? And it was no. … He was struggling. He said, ‘I want to finish it out.’ Part of you says, ‘Did you leave it all out there?’ And every game he played, he can answer with great confidence that he did. So you appreciated that a ton. And quite honestly, I’m excited that he’s now getting healthy.”
Junior Chris Orr, who has started 15 games in his career, is expected to take Connelly’s place alongside T.J. Edwards against the Hurricanes.
Connelly recorded 89 tackles this season and was named a semifinalist of the Butkus Award. He also earned third-team All-Big Ten honors from the conference’s coaches.
“It’s something he’s been dealing with throughout the course of the season,” UW defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said. “Just once again, shows his toughness and what he was willing to do for his teammates. And it was the right decision for him to take care of himself. He did everything he could for this team and more, and now it’s time to take care of himself.”
Connelly and Edwards formed one of the best linebacking tandems in the country and were arguably UW’s best defensive players this season.
Leonhard said Connelly, a former walk-on, also grew from a leadership perspective this year as the Badgers fielded a number of inexperienced first-year starters on defense.
“What Ryan’s been able to do this year has really been impressive,” Leonhard said. “In the three years that I’ve been here, just watching him grow as a player and watching him grow as a leader, it’s been really unbelievable to see how far he’s come.
“He was always just kind of in the shadows, doing his thing, playing well and making plays. With a younger team around him, he really stepped up (as a leader). Playmaking-wise, to see how he played all season, the impact plays that he provided us week in and week out, it was a lot of fun as a coach to watch. Some things you can’t teach.”
Chryst confirmed Friday that Kayden Lyles will move back to offensive line next season.
The redshirt freshman moved to defensive line in the summer following Garrett Rand’s season-ending Achilles injury. Lyles started seven games at defensive end and recorded seven tackles in 12 games.
“We went into this season knowing that he was going to come back to offense,” Chryst said. “He helped this team out a ton this year, but he’ll be on offense.”
Lyles has taken reps at both center and guard during bowl practices, although defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said Lyles will still play on defense against Miami.
Offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Joe Rudolph said he “absolutely” expects Lyles to compete for a starting job on the interior of the Badgers’ line next season.
Starting guards Michael Deiter and Beau Benzschawel are seniors, while redshirt sophomore center Tyler Biadasz could leave early for the NFL.
“I think he’s probably an ideal center,” Rudolph said. “But he really is adept at playing both (guard and center) and flipping right-handed stance, left-handed stance. It gives you a ton of flexibility, so I like that about him.”