MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Put on the pads. Lace up the shoes. Give an emotional pregame speech.
Simple yet oh-so effective, Chris Borland is No. 25 Wisconsin's old-school linebacker. He'll be a headache for Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit when the Badgers visit Champaign on Saturday night.
"The Borland kid, I love watching him play," Cubit said. "I hate to say it because we're facing him, but that guy plays college football the way it should be played."
No showboating. Textbook tackling. And a polite, look-you-in-the-eye demeanor off the field that could remind someone of the boy next door.
But he's anything but on the field. The fifth-year senior has a team-high 56 tackles, good for third in the Big Ten, and two sacks. He's seemingly everywhere.
Senior running back James White has been watching this show in practice for four years now at Wisconsin (4-2, 2-1).
"He's very instinctive and he's going to find the ball," White said. "He does a great job of watching film, so he's that much faster out there when he's playing."
Borland followed up his 16-tackle game against Ohio State with a 10-tackle performance in the 35-6 dismantling last week of previously-ranked Northwestern.
He's also one forced fumble away of tying the career FBS record of 14 shared by five players including Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan. Asked about the secret to his success, Borland offered answers as if he was running a seminar on proper tackling.
"It's important, not only is it the right way to make plays, but it keeps you healthy and forces takeaways, too," Borland said.
As for the recent buzz in the pro and college level about the lack of "form tackling," Borland said it's in part due to how more teams are spreading the field. Getting put in space more may lend to fewer opportunities for tackling properly.
"I do think there is a lot of lunging and diving. A lot of that may be out of necessity," he said.
Make no mistake, Borland seems to do that well, too. Like when he lunged at Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter on a third-down play in the red zone to force the Wildcats to settle for a first-quarter field goal. It was one of the plays that set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.
Coach Gary Andersen, in his first year in Madison, gushed about Borland before the season kicked off. He has said Borland's pre-snap awareness is comparable only to that of safety Eric Weddle when he was at Utah. Andersen was a former defensive coordinator with the Utes.
"It's been played out in his mind. There are percentages that this is going to happen," Andersen said in the preseason in describing Borland's preparation.
And that was before Borland even took a snap in a game with the 3-4 defense that Andersen brought to Madison.
But things seem to be working out just fine right now. Borland is a mainstay, but the rotations otherwise in the front seven are helping to increase pressure on the quarterback. The young secondary, which was considered a question mark, is benefiting and improving.
Borland is never shy about heaping credit on his teammates for the defensive effort. The Badgers are second in the conference in total defense (267.3 yards).
But Borland seems to be always leading the charge.