Junior linebacker Chris Borland served as an unwitting microcosm for the way the University of Wisconsin defense performed Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
He did some extremely good things during a 37-26 non-conference triumph over UTEP at Camp Randall Stadium, but there were moments guaranteed to make him cringe when he watches them on video today.
“We showed flashes,’’ he said. “We’ve been inconsistent, though, and that’s got to stop.’’
Borland was credited with a team-best 12 tackles – including 3.5 for losses and two quarterback sacks – while batting down two passes at the line of scrimmage.
“They did run a lot at me,’’ he said of the Miners, “and I was able to make some plays.’’
But Borland was busted for a crucial roughing-the-passer penalty in the first quarter that helped set up a 39-yard touchdown pass from UTEP quarterback Nick Lamaison to wide receiver Michael Edwards on the ensuing play.
Borland said he knew he probably should have refrained from thumping Lamaison, who had been flushed toward the right sideline, but couldn’t resist. Standing a few feet away was UW coach Bret Bielema, who had a quick chat with his co-captain.
“He just said that was stupid and I agreed,’’ Borland said.
Borland also appeared to let a potential interception zip past his outstretched hands and missed a tackle in the backfield on third down that would have derailed a scoring drive by the Miners in the fourth quarter.
The Badgers did a lot of good things on defense despite a spate of injuries that claimed senior end Brendan Kelly before the game and juniors David Gilbert and Tyler Dippel during it.
The unit held UTEP to 2.3 yards per rush, sacked Lamaison four times, racked up nine tackles for loss totaling 44 yards and broke up eight passes. After getting burned in two earlier games on wheel routes, senior linebacker Mike Taylor defended one nicely.
But the UW defense endured its fourth straight game without a forcing a turnover and was victimized by two long scoring plays.
In addition to the 39-yarder that gave the Miners the initial lead – Edwards got inside position on cornerback Devin Smith – Lamaison hit Edwards with a 62-yard bomb in the fourth when strong safety Michael Trotter failed to play the ball properly along the left sideline.
Junior defensive tackle Ethan Hemer said “navigating the gray’’ is something he and his teammates are still learning to do.
“When you’ve got guys trying to do too much that’s when mistakes happen – when mental errors or missed assignments happen,’’ he said.
Bielema said Borland is sometimes guilty of doing too much and creating a problem in the process.
“The only time he gets in trouble is when he tries to do something he didn’t need to do,’’ Bielema said.
“Sometimes there’s schemes where you’re just not getting a lot of action,’’ Borland acknowledged, “but you’ve got to stay in your gap and fulfill your responsibility and as hard as that is, it’s vital for the team.’’
The thing that probably bothers Borland the most is the zero in the turnover column.
“Often times those things come in bunches,’’ he said. “We’re not keeping our fingers crossed. We’re going to make it happen.’’
Through the first four games it’s clear that the most consistent entity for UW is its defense. Unlike the offense, the unit has made strides every week. Hemer said he’s seen improvement at every position.
“So far I liked what I saw in this last game from the defense,’’ he said. “There are little things here and there, but there is no reason why we can’t be an elite defense.’’