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Sunday, September 25, 2022
'Backers healthy, primed for success

taylor: Sophomore linebacker Mike Taylor registered 46 tackles in 2009 before an injury ended his season. After missing 2010 opener against UNLV, Taylor returned to action against San Jose State a week ago

'Backers healthy, primed for success

This could be the week Badger fans finally get to see two of the defense's most exciting playmakers on the field at the same time. Sophomore linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland both appear to be healthy and ready to roll, and just in time with the high-powered Arizona State Sun Devil passing attack paying a visit to Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.

Last season, as a freshman, Taylor led the team in tackles up until Oct. 17 when he tore his ACL against Iowa. At that point, Borland stepped into the starting lineup and went on to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year awards after finishing with 54 total tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss.

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""Both of those guys are so exciting,"" said junior free safety Aaron Henry. ""They're high level, high-energy guys and they fly to that football. Those guys, someway somehow, the ball always winds up around those two guys.""

While the Wisconsin coaching staff certainly will not complain about the chance to get Borland and Taylor on the field together, the Badger linebackers have not exactly struggled in the first two games.

Last week, senior linebacker Blake Sorensen led the team in tackles with seven and also intercepted a pass in the second quarter. On the strength of that performance, he leads the team for the year with 12. Nipping at the Eden Prairie, Min. native's heals is fellow senior linebacker Culmer St. Jean, who has registered 11 stops. Against ASU's lightning-paced offense, the fact that UW has four linebackers (Borland, Taylor, Sorensen and St. Jean) with at least five starts will certainly help the defense.

""This week is the best week to have the depth,"" said St. Jean. ""It's a high speed, high tempo offense and just having the fresh legs in is going to be key for us.""

St. Jean, who has started in the middle each of the last two games, should be able to get off the field a little more frequently now that the entire unit is healthy and Sorensen can take on a jack-of-all-trades roll.

""He can do everything,"" St. Jean said. ""He can give me a break, he can give Mike a break and Borland too and he can start. He's already started two games this year and the type of leadership he displayed was phenomenal.""

While those four top guys provide experience and playmaking ability in the base defense, sophomore Kevin Rouse has provided some excitement in the Badgers' 3-3-5 nickel package.  He registered his first career sack against UNLV in week one and, with a pass-happy team on the docket this weekend, the nickel package could see extensive work.

""Kevin Rouse has been playing phenomenal,"" said St. Jean. ""He's doing everything he can to get on the field. He should get a lot of action.""

Arizona State relies heavily on quick-hitting passes over the middle, and with junior quarterback Steven Threet standing 6'5,"" passes will be hard to bat down at the line of scrimmage. Defensive coordinator Dave Doeren said it will be important for the linebackers to be prepared.

""There are a lot of underneath throws and obviously [Threet] has the height that's going to help him but there are a lot of short passes,"" said Doeren ""[Tackling] is going to be at a premium.""

Arizona State has a prolific linebacker of their own in sophomore Vontaze Burfict. Burfict took over the middle linebacker position early in his freshman year and went on to earn Freshman All American Honors from several college football publications.

Burfict certainly will not be the last dynamic linebacker the Badgers will face this year, as stars like Michigan State's Greg Jones and Ohio State's Ross Homan will both get their chances against Wisconsin. Though in a perfect world, the Badgers would not have had to deal with the injuries to Borland and Taylor, Sorensen said it will help in the long run.

""It's a long year, especially once we get in to Big Ten play,"" he said. ""The more guys you have that can play, the better. We're going to play a lot of guys. Guys are going to come in and be fresh, and that's going to benefit us.""

Last week, the coaching staff limited Taylor to about 30 snaps because he had missed so much time with the knee injury. Along that same line of thinking, it is possible that both he and Borland will be monitored from the sidelines. If the game is close, though, it will be hard to keep either of them off the field.

""Both of those guys have tremendous ability,"" Henry said. ""I'm just really looking forward to both of those guys being on the field.""


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