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Wisconsin vs. BYU: Taking a look at the Cougars

A Q&A with Vanquish the Foe.

Utah v BYU
Former Wisconsin commit and current BYU back Ula Tolutau scores a touchdown last week vs. Utah.
Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

Before their bye week, the No. 10 Wisconsin Badgers travel out to Provo, Utah, to face BYU on Saturday afternoon.

The Badgers (2–0) will face (2:30 p.m. CT, ABC) a Cougars squad (1-2) coming off consecutive losses to LSU and Utah, and head coach Kalani Sitake and his team might not have their starting quarterback in Tanner Mangum.

The BYU offense itself has struggled under offensive coordinator Ty Detmer, averaging only 11 points and 231.7 yards per game while converting third downs under 32 percent of the time.

Their defense, however, seems solid, allowing only 17.3 points per contest. That includes 27 vs. LSU and 19 vs. Utah, with a unit that has allowed 376.3 yards per game. While allowing around 166 yards per contest, the Cougars have only allowed 3.9 yards per carry. Earlier this week, both head coach Paul Chryst and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph mentioned the Cougars’ front seven when asked about Sitake’s defense.

Like Wisconsin, an influx of former BYU players are embedded within the program, with 20 on the football and administration staffs. The team’s game notes boast that eight of the 10 full-time coaches played for the Cougars, which is “more former players coaching at the alma mater than any other school.”

There’s also the altitude factor, as Provo is about 4,550 feet above sea level. The weather itself does not appear to be a major factor, with the current forecast calling for “plentiful sunshine” with a high in the 60s.

“We can prepare them the best we can here, right, and so I think you just got to focus on all the things that you can control,” Chryst said on Monday about the differences in climate and elevation. “Then they’ve got to get adjusted to it, and I don’t know how much you can talk about it, but you can’t simulate it here.”

To look a little deeper into the Cougars, we chatted with Vanquish the Foe’s Rob McCombs.

Wisconsin fans may remember the names Ula Tolutau and Austin Kafentzis. It appears Tolutau is listed with the starters and rushed for a touchdown last week vs. Utah. How are both players, with their Wisconsin connections, contributing to the Cougars?

Tolutau’s expectations are very high for his BYU career. Tolutau tweaked his hamstring during fall camp, which caused him to be limited during BYU’s first two contests. With BYU’s running game very pedestrian and no running backs separating themselves, Tolutau provided an immediate spark versus Utah. Now with the running back job firmly his, coaches and fans are excited to see what the big, bruising back can bring to an anemic offense.

A Utah native, Kafentzis came to BYU as a walk-on. After initially trying out at quarterback in fall camp, coaches quickly switched him to running back. Kafentzis has [yet] to see the field, and it would be a surprise for him to see any time this year.

BYU is 12, with their only win against Portland State to start the year. What’s the feeling going through the program so far this season?

With poor offensive showings and another loss (now seven in a row) to heated rival Utah, most are pretty down about the program right now. It’s going to take some time for head coach Kalani Sitake to build up the talent at BYU, particularly along the lines, but people are very concerned about BYU’s offense. Ty Detmer is one of the most beloved players in program history, but major questions surround his pro-style offense.

The offense appears to have struggled so far, averaging 231.7 total yards per game (76.3 rushing, 155.3 passing). BYU has averaged only 11 points per contest, and now it appears starting quarterback Tanner Mangum is hurt. Have there been glimmers of hope with Ty Detmers offense? Who should Wisconsin fans know about, and do you think Mangum plays?

Tight end Matt Bushman has been one of the few bright spots. BYU has a long list and history of quality tight ends, and Bushman appears to be the next great BYU tight end. The big freshman is BYU’s leading receiver on the year.

Coaches have not officially commented on Mangum’s status, but it seems very unlikely he plays on Saturday. In his place is redshirt sophomore Beau Hoge. The son of former NFL player and ESPN analyst Merril Hoge, Beau is a completely different QB than Mangum. Beau is a dual-threat quarterback who played a lot of wide receiver in high school. Hoge played one game vs. ECU in 2015 after Mangum got banged up, and he struggled mightily in limited action (threw a pick while throwing across his body).

With his running ability and lack of film, the hope for BYU is that Hoge catches the Badgers by surprise.

Head coach Paul Chryst and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph praised the BYU front seven on defense. Who are the playmakers that can disrupt Wisconsins offense, and are there any particular weaknesses on this side of the ball?

BYU’s defense is the epitome of “bend but don't break.” BYU has given up quite a few yards, but has been extremely stout in the redzone. The best player on the team is outside linebacker Fred Warner. Warner is effective in pass rushing, pass coverage, and run defense. When BYU needs a big play, he always seems to come through. Other player makers are middle linebacker Butch Pau’u, who is one of the hardest hitters in the West, and defensive end Sione Takitaki, who is BYU’s best pass rusher.

Senior outside linebacker Matt Hadley is a converted safety who is still learning the position and is a bit undersized for a linebacker.

Are there any other key injuries for the Cougars heading into Saturdays game?

Tanner Mangum is definitely the biggest injury. Tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau has yet to play this season and is still expected to miss more time. Overall, however, BYU is a healthy team.

What are your keys to the game, and your prediction?

BYU’s offense has been borderline dreadful thus far. Ula Tolutau will need to provide a spark for the offense and convert first downs to keep the defense off the field. With Beau Hoge starting, BYU will likely run more spread concepts and utilize his running ability.

BYU’s defense has been stout, and will need to hold Wisconsin under 21 points if BYU is to stand any chance.

Prediction: Wisconsin 23, BYU 6. BYU’s defense will keep it close for three quarters, but Wisconsin’s physicality will tire BYU out and put the game away late.