Playmaker Borland paces No. 23 Wisconsin defense
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Chris Borland fan club at No. 23 Wisconsin starts at the top.
Barely eight months on the job, and first-year Badgers coach Gary Andersen can’t help but gush about the senior. It’s hard not to get excited about a playmaking linebacker whose 13 career forced fumbles are one short of tying the major college record shared by five players.
For Andersen, there’s no better player than Borland to help ease the transition at Wisconsin.
“From pre-snap awareness, Eric Weddle and Chris Borland are the two best I’ve been around in terms of anticipation,” said Andersen, referring to the San Diego Chargers safety who attended Utah. “It’s been played out in his mind. There are percentages that this is going to happen. He understands it.”
It’s a good trait to have given all the changes Borland has encountered since arriving in Madison in 2009.
By Borland’s estimation, he’s had four linebackers coaches and three defensive coordinators. Andersen replaced Bret Bielema, who left in December for the Arkansas job. That’s enough instability to make a Badger dizzy.
Leave it to Borland to turn that volatility into a positive.
“I’ve had the opportunity to see the game in a lot of different ways, which I think has really expanded my knowledge of football,” said Borland this week, speaking in a polite, “boy next door” voice. “It’s fun to get new terminology, new ideas. It makes you a better player.”
The latest adjustment for Borland is the transition to a 3-4 scheme preferred by Andersen. Andersen promises to mix up looks and cause deception and miscommunication. More turnovers are the goal. The new look debuts in the season opener Saturday against Massachusetts at Camp Randall Stadium.
The goal is to get to a fourth straight Rose Bowl. Borland, along with fellow linebacker Ethan Armstrong, started every game last year in an experienced front seven. With 308 career tackles, Borland is 144 stops from being the school’s all-time leader.
“We have been asked to do a lot of things differently,” Borland said. “But I put my trust in him.”
Andersen’s resume shows his defensive prowess. Last season, Utah State under Andersen was seventh in scoring defense, allowing just 15.4 points per game. Dave Aranda followed Andersen from Utah State to Wisconsin to coordinate the defense and coach linebackers.
“I think it will be fun. It’s something new, something different,” safety Dezmen Southward said. “You’ll see a little more an aggressive team, swagger.”
The key is knowing when being aggressive is too much, and dialing that intensity back. It can be acquired trait, one borne from dozens and dozens of drills.
Take a recent example with Borland, for instance. A thunderous collision with a Wisconsin receiver drifting across the middle for a catch seemed inevitable during a recent practice.
But Borland let up, then turned for a dive, landing on his back to avoid mercifully avoid pounding the unsuspecting teammate.
“Unselfishness,” Andersen said. “To say Chris goes out of his way to avoid contact would not really give a true (account) of what took place.”
In a game, that player, if in a different uniform, would have been on the ground. Ideally for Borland, the ball would have been knocked out, the Badgers scrambling for another forced fumble.
Notes: While Andersen hasn’t made an official announcement, the division of snaps in practice Tuesday indicated that Joel Stave would start at quarterback Saturday ahead of Curt Phillips. Stave operated the first-string offense, while Phillips had the second-string offense during the portion of practice open to media. Andersen has said the public won’t officially know the starter until the Badgers jog out on to the field for their first drive against UMass. “I think we know. I think if you’ve been here at practices and know how the reps are going, you know,” Phillips said. “But at the same time, I think both guys are ready to play and we’re in good hands no matter what.”