Three's Company

They are three players with different stories at different positions, but sophomores Chris Borland and Travis Frederick and senior Russell Wilson all have one thing in common: they couldn't help Wisconsin beat Michigan State last season. Tonight, that won't be the case.

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Chris Borland sat quickly in his living room with his shoulder in a sling. Travis Frederick gripped his clipboard and quietly scribbled notes. Russell Wilson quietly walked off the field contemplating all the missed opportunities his team had squandered.

Three key components for fourth-ranked Wisconsin, three different mindsets, and all with one thing in common: they couldn't help the Badgers defeat Michigan State last season.

"(We) couldn't help and we made some mistakes that we really shot ourselves in the foot," Borland said. "Those are the things that are really hard to swallow."

Spartan Stadium has not been a friendly environment for Wisconsin (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) here since last winning in 2002. There was the 9-0 start in 2004 with Wisconsin fifth in the BCS and leading the nation in scoring defense (9.1 per game) but allowed six touchdowns and 551 yards in a 49-14 loss, and the 25-24 loss to the Spartans in 2008 had the Badgers blow a 24-13 lead by committing 12 penalties.

So with Wisconsin off to a 4-0 start, Borland was hoping for the best when he sat down with offensive lineman Sam Edmiston to watch and analyze the game. Borland was just two weeks removed from shutting down his sophomore season with a shoulder injury, which made the 444 total yards and quarterback Kirk Cousins completing 20-of-29 passes to pick apart the secondary hard to watch.

"Personally, I felt a little hopeless," said Borland. "There's nothing I could have done sitting thousands of miles away."

Thousands? East Lansing is just a 45-minute flight or roughly a 370-mile drive from Madison.

"It felt like thousands," Borland said. "Just frustrating."

Unlike Borland, Frederick was on the travel roster last season and was to be used in an emergency situation. With the overwhelming guard depth at the Badgers disposal last season, the UW coaches were hoping to make it without Frederick last season to retain a year of eligibility. The plan worked out, but it made standing on the sidelines trying to help an offensive line that had to adjust on the fly.

"Obviously, it was tough watching somebody not do as well as they had in the past," Frederick said.

Wisconsin wasn't even on Russell Wilson's radar last season, but the former N.C. State quarterback knows all about how mistakes can cost a team. Like the Badgers, the Wolfpack were undefeated and ranked No.23 in the country last Oct.2 and built leads of 17-0 in the second quarter and 24-13 in the third quarter, but two second-quarter interceptions stunted drives and a fourth-quarter interception sealed a 20-3 fourth quarter for Virginia Tech in a 41-30 victory.

"I wouldn't say I never really didn't handle the moment," said Wilson. "I think, more than anything, I grew … Playing the quarterback position, the calmer you are, the more confident you play, the more that you trust your offense, the more that you trust what you see, especially when you're playing away, the better off you're going to be."

More than 54 weeks have passed since Wisconsin has lost a regular season game and it's clear that members of Wisconsin are handling themselves. Running wild through their schedule with the nation's top scoring offense (50.2 ppg) and third in the country in scoring defense (9.6 ppg), Wisconsin is clicking on all cylinders, and the three players that missed last year are reasons why.

After a career-high 15 tackles against Indiana, including three tackles for loss, Borland leads the team and is tied for the conference lead with 58 tackles. His 8.5 tackles for loss are tied for fourth in the conference, and show that he's back to the dynamic performer he was two years ago when he was named the conference's freshman of the year.

"I think it took some time to get used to the new position and regain total confidence in my health," said Borland. "I just wasn't used to playing football very much the last couple years, but I've been working hard with my teammates to get better."

Every game last year, Frederick charted the plays the offense ran, the down and distance, the call the defense was in and any blitzes the defense called or adjustments the offensive line made. With things in flux, Frederick, who has started five games at left guard this year, only recalls a lot of notes, a lot of correction and a lot of adjustments on the run.

He is expecting the same this year, as Michigan State ranks No. 2 nationally in total defense (186.1 yards per game) and No. 8 in sacks (3.5 per game), but he is prepared having seen it firsthand last year and facing a tough Nebraska front line just three weeks ago.

"I know I need to go in this game extra focused and know that I need to be ready to learn on the sideline and be able to adjust on the sidelines," Frederick said. "They probably blitz more than anybody I have ever seen, and they like to throw different things and new things at us … It was good (last year) to kind of sit from an omnipresent view and be able to see everything that was going on almost impartially."

Wilson has been everything the Badgers could have hoped for this season, leading the country in pass efficiency (210.9), in yards per play (11.4) and is third in the country in completion percentage (74.2). This is will be his biggest test this season, but the opportunity to play in games like Saturday's at Spartan Stadium was one of the reasons he came to Wisconsin.

"The thing I know is there's going to be adversity," Wilson said. "When you're playing a great team in Michigan State with a great defense, there's going to be storms. The thing I have to do and our offense has to do and our team in general is weather the storms. Just play with confidence, play with a little bit of a swagger and play great football."

All three players couldn't help Wisconsin from suffering defeat in its conference road opener last season. It's hard to imagine Wisconsin going through the stretch run without any of them, and having the three players playing at a high level will finally allow UW the chance to avenge last season.

"They are going to come out and play hard," Frederick said. "It's something we are going to have to be prepared for and adjust to. They can talk and do what they want, but there is a difference between talking and walking."

Badger Nation Top Stories