Chris Borland makes impact in return to Badgers defense

MADISON, Wis. — Gary Andersen was pleased that the rest of the Wisconsin Badgers’ defense didn’t just wait around for Chris Borland to make a play.

Maybe it was the previous seven quarters operating without their star linebacker that taught the Badgers that lesson. But with Borland back on the field in Saturday’s 27-17 win over BYU, his performance certainly allowed the other 10 defensive players to fall back into a supporting role around him.

Borland had a team-high 13 tackles and two sacks, while adding a quarterback hurry and 2.5 tackles for loss.

“When he flies around there, he smacked some guys pretty good today, and he plays with such a high level of intensity and a want-to,” Andersen said.

Borland suffered a right hamstring injury Oct. 19 in the first quarter of Wisconsin’s game at Illinois and did not return. Though the Badgers had a bye the following week, Borland still wasn’t ready to return when they traveled to Iowa for a Nov. 2 game. But he wasn’t going to let it keep him out of yet another game late in his senior season.

“It was great to be back,” Borland said. “It felt like I hadn’t played in forever.”

The difference that Borland makes for Wisconsin’s defense was immediately noticeable against BYU’s up-tempo offense. Not noticeable because of his stature, as a 5-foot-11 inside linebacker isn’t the prototype of a dominant player. But noticeable in that Borland is so instinctive that he ends up being everywhere that he’s supposed to be on the field. It didn’t take long for BYU quarterback Taysom Hill to find that out first-hand Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium.

“Chris will get his,” Andersen said. “He’s made some great plays and will continue to do that.”

Without Borland for the final three quarters at Illinois three weeks ago, the Badgers were considerably less effective. The 12 plays that Borland was in for before his injury resulted in the Illini offense actually losing more yards than what they gained (minus-11 total yards). Upon Borland’s exit, Illinois strung together 189 yards in its next 23 plays.

That hamstring injury was one that Borland was all too familiar with. Describing it as a tweak of the muscle this year, Borland’s right hamstring was bad enough late last season that he missed two full games in November 2012. Not coincidentally, Wisconsin lost both of those games.

“There is just a little bit extra when Chris is out there on the field as far as leadership,” Andersen said.

Borland believes “there’s no such thing” as making up for lost time. But if that was a motto that he was comfortable with, it’d be easy to justify that he did just that after his most recent absence.

However, three weeks away from game action didn’t have all the same effects of a three-week vacation, though.

“You don’t really feel fresh with a hamstring injury,” Borland said. “But otherwise I felt healthy, well-rested. I don’t know with my legs if I’d consider them fresh, but obviously good enough to play.

“I’ll probably be sore (Sunday). I think every college football player will probably be sore (the day after a game). I’m not really concerned about it.”

Despite the time he missed, Borland still leads the Badgers in every defensive category this season. With 70 tackles, four sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss, Borland is clearly the player that has the biggest impact on a Wisconsin defense that ranks fourth in the nation in points allowed.

“This defense is very happy to have him out there, and I am, too,” Andersen said. “It was nice to see him run around out there again.”

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