View From the Bleachers

With linebacker Chris Borland out for the season, the Badgers could struggle to replace one of their top pass rushers and premier playmaker at linebacker.

MADISON — With Austin Peay on the horizon, solid questions to answer about the Wisconsin football team are in short supply as the Badgers prepare for an essential pre-Big Ten season game. Chatter on the premium board was more focused on recruiting, so for this week's View From the Bleachers column, I will be answering self-created questions on the only topic worth discussing: linebacker Chris Borland.

For reasons I cannot quite understand, I seem to be in the minority of reactions to Borland's loss for the season.

And my minority opinion is thus: It is a huge freaking deal. As in season changing injury. As in one of the five most important pieces on the Badgers was lost for the year before conference play even started.

And maybe I am reading the winds wrong (read: chatter with randoms in bars), but I sense the rest of Badger nation is bummed by the loss, but not overly worried.

Well, let's break it down.

What are the Badgers missing?

Well for one, they will miss this.

But now back to the world of athletics the mind can comprehend, Borland brought numbers to the table that are irreplaceable. While winning the Big Ten Rookie of the Year award last season, Borland racked up 10.5 tackles for a loss (3rd on the team), five sacks (2nd), seven quarterback hits (2nd), five forced fumbles (1st), three recovered fumbles (1st) a blocked punt and an interception. And he did this all despite starting just half the season.

Wisconsin will be missing one of the top two pass rushers on the team — I have him at No. 1 but J.J. Watt may have something to say about that — and the fulcrum to the 3-3-5 defense that coordinator Dave Doeren adores so much. The "Badger" defense, or 3-3-5, is a risk-reward scheme bent on wreaking havoc. As the smorgasbord of statistics in the paragraph above should show you, no one was better at wreaking havoc and confusion then the whirling dervish that was Borland.

And most importantly, we miss the chance has fans to see Borland score a defensive touchdown and then kick his own extra point. Because that is too awesome not to happen.

Who can replace him?

The short answer is no one. Borland is too unique of a playmaker for the word "replace" to have any meaning.

However, there must be a "next man in" as one of head coach Bret Bielema's favorite clichés goes. And for the Badgers there are four possibilities to take Borland's vacated boundary linebacker spot: Mike Taylor, Kevin Rouse, Kevin Claxton and A.J. Fenton.

Taylor is probably the most attractive due to his playmaking abilities and track record. He is certainly fulfills are the checklist attributes as one of the fastest linebackers on the roster as well as a sure tackler. If Taylor moves to boundary linebacker, then Culmer St. Jean and Blake Sorensen can man the other two spots.

Two negatives for the move, however, come with Taylor's lack of pass rushing pedigree — just one sack in nine career starts — and questionable availability. It would be ideal to think Taylor can step into Borland's role, but it is hard to rely on someone who has suffered two season ending injuries in his first two seasons.

As for a Rouse, Claxton or Fenton combo platter, the Badgers staff surely will investigate all options for the base defense and 3-3-5 scheme and duct tape something together. Those three could do a nice job in limited roles. But they won't be Borland.

What does it all mean?

Football is a game with too many moving parts to ever point to one singular non-quarterback as a reason for a win or a loss. There is a reason coaches are so fond of the "next-man-in" banality.

But it doesn't take much imagination to see Borland as the difference maker against the mobile Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes. It isn't much of stretch to picture Borland turning the momentum during a sluggish road game with a strip-sack.

And practically speaking, it leaves the Badgers with one proven pass rusher and a bunch of "potential" guys vying for a role.

Using yet another favorite coaching cliché, the difference between a win and a loss often comes down to which team made the most plays.

It should be more then a bit troubling that Wisconsin just lost their top playmaker.

Think Michael is overreacting? He can be reached at bleach.michael@gmail.com or follow him on twitter at @michaelbleach.


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