MADISON, Wis. — The defensive statistics for Wisconsin in its 35-6 hammering of Northwestern were stunning.
Against a team averaging 39 points and 474 yards a game, UW held the Wildcats to their lowest rushing total in six years (44 yards), their lowest point total in seven years and without a touchdown for the first time in 86 games. Also, seven players recorded sacks.
So what did Badgers coach Gary Andersen say in pregame to have his defense so ready?
“I didn’t have to say anything, trust me,” Andersen said. “Chris Borland said whatever he needed to say, and he did it in no uncertain terms. Those kids listen to him, and they came out ready to roll.”
Borland is Wisconsin’s senior captain and inside linebacker. Andersen regularly refers to him as “the best linebacker in the country.”
If the 5-foot-11, 246-pounder from Kettering, Ohio, isn’t the best, he’s at least the midseason Big Ten defensive player of the year. And he provided the biggest defensive play in Saturday’s game.
You wouldn’t look for a turning point in a 35-6 romp, but Borland provided it.
Wisconsin, which has lost the fewest fumbles in the country the past four seasons, managed to let the ball get away on its second snap against Northwestern. The Wildcats recovered at the UW 39 and drove down to set up a third-and-goal at the 4.
An early touchdown would have been huge for Northwestern, providing momentum on the road and erasing memories from the 40-30 loss to Ohio State in which the Wildcats had to settle for three short field goals instead of touchdowns.
Borland had other ideas.
He blew up the middle on a blitz and sacked Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter for a 6-yard loss, forcing the Wildcats to kick a field goal.
“That was big for us,” Borland said. “That was for a lot of momentum there to stop them from getting a score on a short field. Everything was still in question at that point.”
Not for long as the Wisconsin defense forced Northwestern to punt on the next seven possessions while its offense forged a 21-3 lead. The body language from the Wildcats after that indicated this fight was over.
Borland is a coach’s dream as a captain. Off the field, he leads the team in community service hours.
On the field, he plays angry. Borland grew up 75 miles from Ohio State, but didn’t fit the size-speed profile of the big home-state school. That snub has spurred him to first-team All-Big Ten honors last year and an even bigger impact this season in the Badgers’ new 3-4 alignment.
“Our young kids learn so much from him,” Andersen said. “He is an amazing leader.”
Please note that Borland’s big play Saturday and his other nine tackles came while playing hurt.
“The kid rolled his ankle early and didn’t bat an eye,” Andersen said. “You’re not taking that kid out, in any situation, especially when he’s in his senior year.
“He’ll never cease to amaze me. He played at a high level. He plays at a high level every week.”