Borland, Allen will make things tough for Illini offensive line

When the lights come on at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night and the crowd files in, it’s going to be the battle in the trenches that decides the game.

Illinois is going to have to get its offense rolling after a poor showing at Nebraska two weeks ago, and it all starts up front. Wisconsin boasts the nation’s fifth-best defense in terms of points scored against, and two players stand out when looking at the Badgers on tape.

“Beau Allen at the nose (guard),” offensive lineman Corey Lewis said. “I see him being physical up front, we’ll have to do a good job against him if we want to be effective in the run game. He kind of opens things up for their linebackers, like (Chris) Borland.”

Borland is one of the Big Ten’s best linebackers and one of the best in the nation.

When Illini running back Donovonn Young hears his name, the first thing he thinks of is a play in the second quarter of Illinois’ game at Wisconsin last year.

With Illinois leading 7-0 at Camp Randall Stadium last year, Borland — all 240 pounds of him — jumped clear over Illinois’ 6-foot-3 tight end Jon Davis to get in on a Josh Ferguson tackle. Walking back to the Wisconsin side of the line of scrimmage after the play, Borland winked at Davis and said, “Y’all better not run that play again.”

Young can laugh about it now, but he knows on the field Borland is nothing to laugh about.

“He’s a pretty good — not pretty good — he’s a great football player,” Young said. “He’s an intense guy. He has a good motor, always running to the ball.”

But like Lewis said, Borland can’t make plays if Allen isn’t creating space for him. And it’s the offensive line’s job to stop Allen.

“He’s very physical up front,” Lewis said. “He’s able to take two guys sometimes, opening up lanes for their linebackers. That’s why their linebackers are so successful.”

Wisconsin has been known for having physically big guys on the line in recent years, and Allen is no exception. At 6-foot-3, 325 pounds, he’s one of the biggest defensive linemen Illinois has faced this season.

But sophomore lineman Ted Karras doesn’t think size is everything.

“Everyone’s going to have big guys in the Big Ten,” Karras said. “Wisconsin’s known for having the beefy guys. I think we’re just as big as they are, especially on the O-line. We’re going to have to get after them. It’s going to be won on the ground.”

Illinois struggled to protect quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase at Nebraska. But offensive line coach A.J. Ricker was happy with the way his unit was able to propel the running game against the Huskers.

Creating space for Ferguson, who has emerged as Illinois’ top playmaker this season, will be the key for the O-line.

“We’ve got to be able to run the football,” Ricker said. “But that’s anybody in this conference. That’s a bland statement. Hopefully, even though we lost, it gave us confidence against Nebraska that we can run the football.”

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and @sean_hammond.