Chris Borland doesn’t have a reputation as a dirty player.
The junior linebacker for the University of Wisconsin football team hopes that won’t change after he was issued a personal foul for a nasty hit on Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson on Saturday.
Borland hit Nelson very late and very low after the true freshman released a pass that resulted in a 12-yard touchdown to A.J. Barker late in the third quarter of the Badgers’ 38-13 victory over the Gophers at Camp Randall Stadium.
Borland was flagged for roughing the passer after knocking down Nelson with a hit below the knees. Borland wasn’t convinced it was a late hit, though replays proved otherwise.
“They said I was late. I don’t know if that is the case, but they did say I went low,” Borland said. “I know you can’t go high and you can’t go low. I have to go in the middle next time.”
Borland was penalized for a late hit against UTEP earlier in the season, when he did hit the quarterback high.
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said he didn’t think Borland was trying to injure Nelson.
“First of all, he’s a heck of a football player,” Kill said. “I think he’s probably just playing hard, and I don’t think he’s doing that intentionally or anything of that nature. I think when you’re a defensive player and you play your tail end off, there’s sometimes you don’t ever hear the whistle blow out there, you don’t know when to stop, so I don’t think anybody was intentionally doing stuff.”
Pick of the litter
UW’s defense went the first five games of the season without registering an interception. The Badgers now have four in their past three games after picking off Nelson twice.
Senior cornerback Devin Smith made a great play on Minnesota’s opening series of the second half to come up with his second interception in as many games. Smith leaped over Barker, tipped the ball up in the air and came down with it at the Minnesota 37-yard line.
UW turned it into a field goal, increasing its lead to 17-6.
In the fourth quarter, junior linebacker Ethan Armstrong undercut a route by receiver Derrick Engel for his first career interception.
“We kind of knew that it was going to start happening,” Armstrong said of the interceptions. “Obviously, we made an emphasis in practice on it. We’ve really put a big priority on creating those turnovers.”
UW coach Bret Bielema has said on more than one occasion that redshirt freshman fullback Derek Watt reminds him of the player he replaced, Bradie Ewing.
It helps that Watt wears No. 34, the same number Ewing wore.
“It was fun because I was talking to Bradie the last couple of weeks (and said), ‘I want you to tell me what you think about No. 34,’ ” Bielema said.
Ewing, a rookie with the Atlanta Falcons who is on injured reserve with a knee injury, was at the game Saturday and probably liked what he saw out of Watt.
In addition to his role helping open holes for tailbacks Montee Ball and James White, Watt pounced on an onside kick in the fourth quarter after Minnesota scored to pull within 24-13.
That play gave Bielema another flashback to Ewing.
“Bradie, I think, came up with three surprise onsides (recoveries) during his career and Derek’s doing that,” Bielema said of Watt, the younger brother of former UW defensive standout J.J. Watt, now a star with the Houston Texans.
“I know people are talking about his older brother doing all these great things, but I’m happy with what I’ve got. … I wouldn’t mind taking the other brother back, either.”
French earns both jobs
After winning back the field-goal job two weeks earlier, sophomore Kyle French got the kickoff job back as well against the Gophers.
It happened, fittingly enough, when freshman Jack Russell hit his second kickoff out of bounds. French lost the kickoff job because of two earlier kicks he sent out of bounds.
“I am happy I got both the field goal and kickoff (jobs),” French said. “Obviously, (I) wanted to have a great day after I had a very subpar game against Purdue.”
After making one of three field-goal attempts the previous week against the Boilermakers, French made his only attempt — a 33-yarder from the right hash — in the third quarter. That makes him 6-for-9 on the year.
Bielema said French had been hitting the ball “extremely well” in practice on kickoffs. French finished with three touchbacks on his five kickoffs.
Still, Bielema showed he did not completely trust French after electing to punt from the Minnesota 32-yard line in the second quarter, rather than attempt a 49-yard field goal. Drew Meyer’s punt was downed at the 13.
“I definitely knew I had the distance for a 49-yard field goal,” French said. “I think we just wanted to pooch it, keep them in there a little deep.”
Good day for Groy
Left guard Ryan Groy’s first start at left tackle went off without a hitch, with the help of a week’s worth of preparation. Groy started for Ricky Wagner, who was out with a knee injury. Robert Burge started at left guard and rotated with Zac Matthias.
“Left tackle was fun,” Groy said. “It was something I was prepared for going into the week. Ricky helped me out in a lot of things (watching) film. We executed well.”
Bielema said he did not know if Wagner would be back to face Michigan State in the next game.
Minnesota was officially credited with two sacks in the game because the UW official scorer ruled quarterback Joel Stave was not pressured when he slipped while going back to pass, resulting in an 8-yard loss on third-and-7. That play preceded UW’s punt from the Gophers’ 32.
Gophers safety Derrick Wells blitzed and Stave admitted afterward he stumbled due to the pressure.
“I saw them coming and my foot slipped out on me,” he said.
From the infirmary
UW tailback Montee Ball briefly left the game with a slight ankle injury after a touchdown-saving tackle by Minnesota cornerback Troy Stoudermire in the third quarter. Ball was able to return and seemed to run better after that, scoring both of his touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
“Really nothing’s sprained or anything at all,” he said.
Bielema said the only injuries in the game came on special teams but did not specify what they were.
— Tom Mulhern contributed to this report.