There is really no way around it: Ohio State’s defense was at its absolute best when Tuf Borland was on the field.
The Buckeyes had some ups and downs last season at linebacker, there also isn’t much room for debate in that area. Particularly in the losses to Iowa and Oklahoma, there were clear problems at the second level that were just plainly out of character for a unit that has been so important historically for the Silver Bullets.
But down the stretch, Ohio State was a different animal defensively. And it’s surely no coincidence that the way the Buckeyes bottled up Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin and USC to end the season with a dominant run and a handful of championship trophies came with Borland taking over the full-time role at middle linebacker. The redshirt sophomore was a tackling machine, he was seemingly always in the correct position to make a play and was ready for the responsibilities that come from playing in the heart of the defense — something I can relate to after the position switch in 2012.
Borland’s impact last season only raised the bar for what he could do with another year of development under his belt, but that was unfortunately put on hold thanks to an untimely Achilles injury suffered in spring practice. Ohio State has the depth to potentially replace him in the starting lineup without much of a decline in production thanks to the presence of Baron Browning and Justin Hilliard, but there’s also looking increasingly likely that Borland will be back much earlier than anticipated.
“Tuf Borland is doing great,” Urban Meyer said at Big Ten media days. “He’s got the same pain threshold as J.T. Barrett. J.T. Barrett, when the doctors told me after our rivalry game it’s going to be several weeks, I kind of laughed as I walked out of the room and said, ‘That means he’ll be five days.’
“Same with Tuf Borland. ‘Well, it’s a really tough injury.’ I’m looking at Tuf, smiling, he winks at me. He’s on course to perform this fall.”
When exactly Borland will be back remains to be seen. It’s probably not going to be in time for training camp, which opens on Friday. But at some point, the Buckeyes are going to have him available again in the middle, and it’s clear from breaking down his video from last season just how meaningful that can be for the program.