Borland is Jack of all trades for Badgers
He has returned kickoffs, is 3 for 3 on extra-point attempts and this season showed off his passing arm on a beautifully executed fake punt at Arizona State.
If Wisconsin's coaching staff decides to use Chris Borland's skills on offense even for a few plays, the fifth-year senior gladly would move over to that side of the ball and line up wherever instructed.
Yet as much as Borland loves playing the game, he backed away when the topic was broached this week for a legitimate reason.
Borland isn't satisfied with the overall performance of the defense as UW (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) prepares to host Northwestern (4-1, 0-1) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
“I'll say things occasionally,” he said of his desire to help on offense, “but it is hard to when your defense isn't performing at what I think the level it should.”
Borland, who leads UW in solo tackles (26) and total tackles (46), outlined three areas that need to be shored:
Limiting big plays, forcing more turnovers and getting more third-down stops.
UW allowed seven plays of 20 yards or longer (all passes) in the loss at Arizona State.
The Badgers trimmed that number to one, a 22-yard run on a broken play, one week later against Purdue. However, UW surrendered four plays of 20 yards or longer, all passes, in the loss at Ohio State.
Three of the pass plays at Ohio State were touchdowns, with the most costly the 40-yard bomb at the end of the first half.
Confusion on the defensive call allowed wide receiver Corey Brown to get behind cornerback Peniel Jean and safety Dezmen Southward.
“The bottom line is,” Borland said, “we've got to do a better job of execution and communication.”
Northwestern enters the game with 29 offensive plays of 20 yards or longer—17 passes for an average of 32.9 yards per play and 12 runs for an average of 30.3 yards per play.
“They have two very talented quarterbacks,” UW coach Gary Andersen said, “and some guys that make that offense go and run at a high level.”
The goal of defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is three turnovers per game.
UW has forced seven turnovers (three fumbles, four interceptions) in five games, tied for the No. 8 mark in the Big Ten.
“We had a meeting (Monday) morning and one of the main topics was the number of turnovers we're not forcing,” senior linebacker Brendan Kelly said.
Only one of the turnovers has come in Big Ten play. Freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton intercepted a pass late in the 31-point victory over Purdue.
UW's ability to get to the quarterback was limited early by playing teams with quick-hitting passing games. The Badgers recorded four sacks against Purdue, which has converted to a pro-style system, and two against the Buckeyes despite having to contain Braxton Miller in the pocket to negate his scrambling ability.
“I know our D-line is frustrated at times having to hold guys in the pocket or get their hands up on three-step (drops),” Borland said.
Northwestern uses both quarterbacks—Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian. Colter is a better runner and can avoid the rush more easily so the UW defense is optimistic it can get pressure on Siemian.
“It is going to be a challenge this week,” Kelly said, referring to having to prepare for two talented quarterbacks. “(But) I definitely think there is a lot of opportunity for our guys to step up and make some plays.”
The Badgers had three opportunities to do that in the loss to Ohio State and failed each time.
Borland was aligned improperly on a punt, which negated a muff by the Buckeyes. A facemask penalty against linebacker Conor O'Neill wiped out a lost fumble by Miller, and Shelton dropped a ball that should have been an interception one play before Miller hit Brown for the 40-yard score.
“We'd like to get more turnovers,” Andersen said. “The kids emphasize it at practice. You can put on the tape. Tape never lies.
“I mean, there's kids trying to get after the ball. We're going to continue to emphasize it, keep working on it, and hopefully it swings our way.”
UW is sixth in the Big Ten in opponents' third-down conversion rate (32.4 percent).
Ohio State converted 40 poercent of its chances (6 of 15). Several conversions came on scoring drives, including two on the Buckeyes' final touchdown drive.
Northwestern, third in the Big Ten in third-down conversion at 48.6 percent, will stress UW's defense Saturday.
“Ultimately if we correct those,” Borland said of the three main areas, “I think we can become an elite defense.”