Chris Borland

UW linebacker Chris Borland is second on the team with 34 tackles.

M.P. KING — State Journal

It's the internal conflict University of Wisconsin junior linebacker Chris Borland still battles on a regular basis.

Every linebacker wants to make plays, especially one as athletically gifted as Borland, who continually does things to amaze.

It only seemed as though Borland made every play on defense last week in the Badgers' 37-26 win over UTEP. As it was, he finished with 12 tackles, 3½ tackles for loss, two sacks and two pass breakups.

No wonder Borland has to consistently fight the urge to try to do too much during his still-brief career as a linebacker.

By now, UW fans know the backdrop. Borland didn't play linebacker until coming to UW and is in his second year starting in the middle.

He was mostly a running back in high school at Archbishop Alter in Kettering, Ohio. When asked to play defense, as a strong safety, he was the king of freelance, allowed to roam the field and chase the ball.

"Even when I played defense in high school, I didn't know what I was doing," Borland said. "I was pretty much either blitzing or covering a guy. I wasn't even entirely sure what an A-gap (between the center and guard) was when I got to college, so I had a lot to learn."

Borland has proven to be a quick study. But the times he gets in trouble are when he tries to do too much.

"I think one of the hardest things to learn in sports is sometimes it's what you don't do that makes you good," Borland said. "I'm starting to mature a little bit in that regard."

Borland wasn't ready to attribute last week's big game to his improved discipline, saying more plays came his way. "I don't think I played much better, I just had more opportunities," he said.

A big part of Borland's production last week came as a third-down pass rusher, a role he flourished in as a true freshman in 2009, when he had five sacks.

"He's fun to watch in the pass rush," first-year linebackers coach Andy Buh said. "His momentum is always moving toward the quarterback."

Borland had a sack and a quarterback hurry in the opener against Northern Iowa, then no sacks or hurries the next two weeks. Oregon State used mostly three-step drops in Week 2 and Utah State slid its protection at Borland and chipped him with a tight end the next game.

UW coaches also adjusted and put faster defensive ends with Borland in the front of the nickel defense. Beau Allen, a 335-pound defensive tackle, had previously played in that formation.

On Borland's first sack vs. UTEP, he came from the right edge and ran a stunt with David Gilbert, an end who was lined up at tackle. Gilbert, who had a quarterback hurry on the previous third down, looped to the outside and Borland beat the tackle for the sack.

"My first sack was all David Gilbert," Borland said. "He did a great job on a stunt, so it freed me up to have a one-on-one with the tackle."

Against Nebraska on Saturday night, Borland will be tested in the base defense again to just do his job. The Cornhuskers have a big-play offense with plenty of speed. They rank fifth nationally in rushing offense, averaging 317.5 yards per game. UW's defense is No. 13 against the run, allowing 80.8 yards.

The first requirement against any option offense is to play assignment-sound.

"You've got to be accountable," Borland said. "There's always a guy assigned to the dive, quarterback and pitch. ... That's been going on for decades."

Buh said he and Borland have talked frequently about not doing anything to compromise the integrity of the defense.

"I think he's doing a better job," Buh said. "He's gotten a lot better at making decisions based on the scheme and not what he wants to do sometimes."