BYU is coming into this game feeling confident. This is not the team that went out like a punk against Virginia. This is a team that's won its last five, and thinks it's going to get the upset. Here's the thing: the Cougars might.
I'm not saying they will. I'm just saying there are reasons why you aught to worry. I mean, for one, we all know how well the pass defense has been doing overall (15th per game, tied for fourth per play). But I've always said there's one style of quarterback that can do something against that.
Now Taysom Hill had a slow start. He was averaging under 5 yards per pass attempt, with a completion percentage under 35 percent through his first three games. Spoiler alert: he got hot. Granted, he hasn't faced a dominant pass defense (In fact, his last two games were against some kind of bad ones in Boise State and Houston.) But Taysom Hill is one of 25 players who's averaging over 100 yards per game on the ground.
That's right, it's the mobile quarterback that can complete passes. Like Taylor Kelly, Braxton Miller and Nathan Scheelhasse before him, Hill has the style that can get points off of this defense. Add to that the fact that BYU has three giant receivers it can go to (Cody Hoffman, Mitch Matthews, and Ross Apo, none shorter than 6'3) and five it goes to on a regular basis (J.D. Falsev and Skyler Ridley are both above 20 catches on the year). They are going to get some work through the air.
That being said, I'm less worried about the Cougars' running game. It's not a bad running game. Jamaal Williams is the James White to Hill's Melvin Gordon in their offensive perception. They're both talented runners. But their running game has some unbalanced performances to it. A 72-carry, 550-yard, four-touchdown performance against Texas does skew the numbers a little. A good performance for the Badgers along the lines of what BYU looks to do would be something like 55 carries, 210 yards and a score.
Why? Because BYU looks to play fast. It's averaging almost 90 plays a game. The Cougars look to wear you down with a no-huddle offense, and this isn't like the teams Gary Andersen played at Utah State. If Chris Borland plays, I would not be surprised if he gets over 20 tackles. As it is, I expect Michael Caputo to get 10 tackles and see a lot of Tanner McEvoy. It's going to be a busy day for the defense, and I would be surprised if it didn't have BYU threaten 30 points.
Okay, you might be saying you're worried. There might be a reason why. SHOULD WE EVEN BOTHER TO PLAY THIS GAME?
Yes. For one thing, BYU is giving up three sacks a game. It's one of the risks of having a mobile quarterback that can keep plays alive with his feet, but a disciplined defense plus some well-timed attacks from the goodly coach Dave Aranda and we'll see some drives end in a spectacular fashion. Secondly, while I mean no disrespect to the BYU linebackers (all four are averaging five tackles a game, Kyle Van Noy has 10.5 TFL and four sacks, and Uani' Unga is averaging 10 tackles a game), the Badgers' offense is the best one they've seen all year.
Sure they had to deal with Houston, and Boise along with Utah State are top-30 offenses. But Houston is your basic air-it-out-and-see-if-that'll-work offense, and pace is a reason why Boise and Utah are in the top 30 (Boise's 37th per play, and Utah State is 50th). Wisconsin is seventh per play nationally. And against the run? Sure, BYU played Georgia Tech, but the Badgers are second per play nationally.
Long story short? Gordon and White are the best running back tag team that BYU will face. This is BYU stepping up in weight class. Not to say the Cougars aren't going to be up for the challenge, but they're going to be challenged.
And in the passing game? If the line doesn't yield to the linebacking pressure, there are opportunities for success. Jacob Pedersen's been visibly solid since his return from his knee injury, and he's helping take the pressure off of Jared Abbrederis and White. My assumption is that Abbrederis is going to give it a go, but if not, there may be enough that BYU can't overload the box. And that could prove to be big.
Strap yourselves in. This looks like it's going to be a good one.