Borland's season in doubt after win
MADISON, Wis. -- Isn’t it ironic?
In a game marred by horrible special teams play by the Wisconsin Badgers, it all came down to a tackle on a kick return and blocked extra point as UW beat Arizona State 20-19 Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
With 4:09 left in the game Arizona State was all set to tie the game at 20 after a two-yard touchdown run by Cameron Marshall. But UW safety Jay Valai, who had been on the field while the Sun Devils’ marched off their nine-play, 77-yard scoring drive in only 3:39, was not about to let that happen.
While most of the 81,332 fans in the stadium assumed the game was about to be tied on the extra point, Valai flew from the outside and blocked Thomas Weber’s kick. The play preserved UW’s 20-19 lead and the offense never allowed the Sun Devils to get the ball back.
"That doesn’t just happen," head coach Bret Bielema said about Valai’s block. "That’s from 365 days of mental and physical conditioning that our guys pride themselves on."
No doubt it was impressive that just seconds after an ASU touchdown, Valai and the special teams unit was able to come up with an improbable block.
"I jumped over somebody’s leg, or maybe I crawled under it because I’m a little short, but just made the play and I blocked it," Valai said.
This all coming after UW allowed the Sun Devils to rack up 261 return yards on five kickoffs, including a 97-yard return for a touchdown and another 95-yard return that after the game was being referred to as "the play".
The play came on the heels of an 11-play, 71-yard touchdown drive by the Badgers that put them up 13-10 with 10 seconds left in the first half. All Wisconsin had to do was stop Arizona State on the ensuing kickoff and it would head to the locker room with a lead.
Instead, Philip Welch failed to execute a squib-kick and instead hit a line drive right to Kyle Middlebrooks who ran right past the late-arriving coverage. He sprinted down the right sideline and was well on his way towards the end zone.
Unfortunately for him, Dezmen Southward and Shelton Johnson never gave up on the play.
Southward slowed Middlebrooks up enough on the sideline that Johnson caught him at the one-yard line and prevented the touchdown as time expired in the first half.
"To never give up on that play and to get him down speaks volumes," Bielema said. "Those are two redshirt freshmen and if you want two guys that are going to track somebody down those are our two fastest guys so we had the right situation there."
After the game, Johnson said he wasn’t sure he would get there in time.
"Honestly, I was just running, hoping that I could get him," he said. "The only time I knew I had him was when I got a hand on him."
As for the poor kickoff?
"It was supposed to be a hard line-drive squib and obviously something we got to work on there," Bielema said.
Borland could red-shirt
The game started off ominously as starting linebacker Chris Borland aggravated his left-shoulder injury on Arizona State’s first drive of the game.
It’s the same shoulder that was operated on in the offseason and it’s same aggravation that caused him to miss last week’s game against San Jose State.
Not surprisingly, the word "red-shirt" was thrown out there by Bielema after the game. Despite playing in two games already, Borland can still apply for a medical redshirt, even if he plays next week against Austin Peay.
"It may be a practical choice," Borland said after the game. "I don’t want to do that and I hope my teammates don’t want me to have to redshirt but it may be what I have to do."
That doesn’t sound good coming from a kid who had to have his helmet hid from him by the coaches last week just to keep him off the field.
Borland wore two braces on his shoulder Saturday and it only took six plays for the injury to flare up again.
Offense continues to move the ball
Thanks to huge games from running back John Clay and tight end Lance Kendricks, UW racked up 440 yards of total offense, marking the third time in three games it has done that this season.
Clay carried the ball 22 times for 125 yards and one touchdown, while Kendricks caught seven passes for 131 yards and a touchdown.
It appeared quarterback Scott Tolzien was looking for his tight end more Saturday.
"We’re always going to find ways to get Lance the ball just because of what a talent he is and just an asset he is for our offense," Tolzien said. "So yeah, I think today it was good that we got him the ball, especially in some of those third down situations."
The Badgers also fixed their turnover problems by not fumbling the ball once. Neither team had a turnover in the game.
Still, 20 points doesn’t exactly match 440 offensive yards. There were still points left to be put on the board.
"You’re happy you are getting production and getting some yards out there, but you know if you are getting those yards you need to be getting some points on the board," left tackle Gabe Carimi said. "So there’s definitely some disappointment in not getting as many points as we want."
But for the most part, the execution was there. On no play was that more evident than on a key third down conversion with UW clinging to its one-point lead on the final drive.
Stuck with a third-and-two at the ASU 45-yard line, offensive coordinator Paul Chryst dialed up a play-action pass to Kendricks and Tolzien executed it perfectly for a 17-yard gain.
It was a play they had run in the first half and something Bielema told Chryst was still there to be taken advantage of.
"It was a great call by Paul and something I know they felt real strong about before even calling it," Bielema said.
In addition to Borland’s injury, J.J. Watt suffered a right-quad contusion after taking a number of hits to that leg during the game.
"I’m struggling a little bit," Watt said. "My leg is pretty tight. I got some serious ice on it right now, but I’ll be fine next week. It was just kind of a couple Charley horses."
Reserve safety Conor O’Neill suffered a concussion in the game and Culmer St. Jean had an ankle injury but played through it.
Meanwhile, Carimi played the entire game with nothing but a small snack and an I.V. in him. Saturday’s game fell in the midst of Yom Kippur, which required him to fast since Noon on Friday and attend Temple until noon Saturday. He received an I.V. at 1 p.m. when he arrived at Camp Randall.
"I ate a little something but it wasn’t nearly the same I eat before games," he said.