Next Men In

When John Clay went down with an injury, a hush fell over Camp Randall. When Mike Taylor needed to be helped off the field, a groan fell over the crowd. Luckily for Wisconsin, true freshmen Montee Ball and Chris Borland filled the void and delivered two of the few solid things against Iowa Saturday.

MADISON – Every dark cloud has a couple of silver linings, although the storm clouds were brewing over Camp Randall Stadium Saturday.

Most members of the football team were at a loss for words after the Badgers' blew a 10-point first-half lead, were held to minus-2 yards rushing yards in the second half and saw quarterback Scott Tolzien, lauded throughout the first half of the Big Ten season for his passing efficiency, throw three interceptions in a 20-10 loss to No.11 Iowa.

Throw in the fact that the Badgers (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) have scored one offensive touchdown in the last eight quarters, the bye week couldn't come at a better time for an offense that sputtered and a defense that allowed the Hawkeyes to convert 6-of-13 times on third down.

"It's been frustrating because we know what our (team) is capable of," said sophomore running back John Clay. "We just have to stay in rhythm … and count on each other."

Counting on the backups was the bright point on an otherwise unimpressive day in Madison, as true freshmen Montee Ball and Chris Borland stepped up in the place of fallen teammates.

"Those two guys were huge for us today," cornerback Aaron Henry said. "They were definitely one of the bright spots."

Clay was carrying the load for UW throughout the first half, rushed for 69 of his 75 total yards before halftime, but got bent backwards and rolled up his right ankle, forcing him from the lineup.

Normally the Badgers would turn to Zach Brown, but the junior running back was sidelined Saturday with a concussion. Enter the highly-touted Ball, who rushed for 8,222 yards and 107 touchdowns during his outstanding prep career at Timberland High School in Wentzville, Missouri.

Up until three weeks ago, Ball hadn't even played a down, sidelined by the flu and missing practice time to the death of his grandfather. Now, he was starting against an Iowa defense considered one of the best in the Big Ten.

"It's just like practice, that's how I have to look at it," Ball said. "I had a great week of practice and when Clay went down, I first hoped he was OK, I went in. I feel pretty comfortable with the game."

Ball showed his comfort level, rushing the ball three more times on the drive and scoring his first collegiate touchdown on a 10-yard sprint to the right pylon.

"I saw the pylon and then I scored," Ball said. "I was like, ‘Wow, did I actually just score that?' But, we have always been told to just celebrate with our teammates and that's what I did, but I am still shocked."

Clay did return, but Ball rushed for a career-high 21 yards, surpassing his high of 19 yards set last Saturday against the Buckeyes.

"I felt that I was ready and Coach (Bielema) said the same thing," Ball said. "I am behind them 100 percent and I just went out and produce. Coach B feels I can go out and keep the chains moving."

While Ball didn't make his first impact until UW's fifth game of the season, Borland has been a special team's standout since the opener. But when redshirt freshman Mike Taylor went down with a knee sprain in the second quarter, Borland was inserted into the starting lineup.

All he did was lead UW with a career-high 10 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, a nine-yard sack and a forced fumble.

"I think people are starting to realize Borland is a real, real good football player," Henry said. "Chris doesn't have that much experience, but we have a lot of faith in him to go out and make plays."

Borland didn't address the media afterwards simply due to the fact that all his aliments were being attended to in the training room. Borland played Saturday with a bad groin, sore hip and a self-diagnosed shoulder injury, but wouldn't allow his toughness being called into question.

"He had borrowed a brace from one of his buddies and strapped it on himself in the locker room," Bielema said. "For him to go out there and play the game he did today … he made a lot of plays."

Badger Nation Top Stories