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MADISON - It sounded so preposterous that Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen prefaced it by saying he was “fully, completely serious.”
It’s no surprise that sophomore Jack Russell will take over field-goal duties for Kyle French this
week when No. 25 Wisconsin (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) travels to face Illinois (3-2, 0-1), but Andersen said that senior linebacker Chris Borland, who has never attempted a field goal during a game in his college career, is now the Badgers' long-range kicker should the situation present itself.
Russell was given the job following Wisconsin’s 35-6 win over Northwestern, but hasn't proven to be particularly reliable thus far. The sophomore is 0 for 3 on field goal attempts over the past two seasons and missed a 31-yard field goal off the right upright against Tennessee Tech last month, his only attempt this season.
So if the Badgers need to attempt a field goal from 45 yards or longer, Andersen will call on No.44.
"As crazy as that may seem," Andersen said.
The move signals the beginning of the end for French. The junior opened the season as UW’s No. 1 kicker, but has made 5 of 8 field-goal attempts this season and is 18 of 29 overall at UW. Already losing the kickoff job to true freshman Andrew Endicott, French was benched after missing a 38-yard attempt wide left last week against Northwestern.
On Thursday night, French posted on Facebook that the coaches asked him to move on following the 2013 season.
"I want to personally thank everyone who has supported me throughout my career in football,” French said. “The coaches have asked me to forgo my senior season and focus on my career outside of football after this season. It has been a great ride, a time I'll never forget, and I am excited for what is to come!"
Borland does have some in-game kicking experience. He went 3-for-3 on extra points as a freshman in 2009 at Hawaii after then-kicker Philip Welch was going through a kicking funk. He also has often attempted field goals in practice.
Since starting this experiment this week, Andersen noted Borland hadn't missed any field goal tries, going a perfect 2-for-2.
“Better than 0 for 2," Andersen replied, laughing.
"He's good at about anything he tries to do athletically it seems," Andersen added. "We tried it a few weeks ago. He does a good job. So we worked a little bit more this week actually getting there, timing it up and giving him a little bit of coaching. Not too much coaching, though. We don't want to take it out of him. So we'll let him go."
Andersen added Borland wouldn't even need a change of cleats.
"He's kicking in the same shoes," Andersen said. "Probably could kick it barefoot, too, if he had to. Who knows?"
Given the uncertainty surrounding the kicking game, Andersen acknowledged again he might choose to go for it on fourth-and-short rather than attempt a field goal, depending on the situation, but added that Russell has “stepped up and is ready to go.”
“We’ll put (Russell) in that spot and see how he handles it,” said Andersen.