Yes, No. 9 Wisconsin was over a two-touchdown favorite to take down BYU on Saturday, but with some uneven play early on, many wondered how the Badgers would face their road test.
Well, they appeared to pass with flying colors.
Wisconsin rolled over BYU in a 40–6 win in LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah, on Saturday.
A balanced Wisconsin (3–0) offensive attack thrashed a respected BYU (1–3) defense, gaining 491 yards (235 rushing, 256 passing) with a quarterback who broke a school record in the process.
With a hint of the unknown in new Cougars quarterback Beau Hoge, the Badgers really only had one bad series (and gave up one long gain late in the first half) on Saturday. The second-half defensive lockdown that has been seen the previous two weeks was showcased once again.
Here’s what we learned from Wisconsin’s win:
Wisconsin played a complete game on both sides of the ball
In a road environment, the Badgers played their best game through all four quarters. An early interception led to the quick 3–0 lead, and even with BYU tying the game up that next drive, they responded quickly and decisively to pick themselves up.
The defense, despite giving up that 14-play, 61-yard series, hunkered down and solidified itself and only gave up one big play for the rest of the afternoon before halftime. Even more impressive, the Badgers held BYU to only 25 yards in the final two quarters—an even better statistic than the minute 50 allowed against Florida Atlantic a week earlier.
The adjustments in defending former Wisconsin commit turned BYU back Ula Tolutau were impressive. He rushed for 58 yards on 13 carries, and the bulk came in the first quarter. Give defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard and his unit a lot of credit for not allowing the Cougars to gain momentum despite implementing some up-tempo looks with Hoge in and Tanner Mangum injured.
For the game, BYU only gained 191. We all knew Ty Detmer’s unit was anemic, but Wisconsin did its job.
Offensively, the squad was balanced, with UW wearing down BYU on the ground and then gashing its opponent through the air. Wisconsin recorded nine “chunk” rushing plays of 10 or more yards, seven of them by true freshman Jonathan Taylor. More on that below.
You can’t forget about the special teams. Rafael Gaglianone converted his only field goal attempt and punter Anthony Lotti averaged 46.5 yards per attempt—both punts landing inside the 20-yard line.
Alex Hornibrook and the passing game can be dangerous, provide balance to the offense
With BYU’s front seven getting a lot of focus from head coach Paul Chryst and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph, quarterback Alex Hornibrook only decided to complete 18-of-19 passes for 256 yards with four touchdowns in the win. He also broke Darrell Bevell’s UW single-game record for completion percentage, a nearly 24-year old record.
Hornibrook’s four touchdown passes marked the first time a quarterback threw for that many since Russell Wilson did so against Minnesota in 2011. On third downs, he was a perfect 8-of-8 for 114 yards with three touchdowns.
Wisconsin recorded nine “chunk” passing plays for 15 yards or more against BYU, which included three of the four touchdown passes on Saturday. Eight different receivers caught balls on the afternoon, showing the potential targets that can be utilized in Paul Chryst’s offense.
Fans questioned Hornibrook after last week’s performance vs. FAU, but the southpaw and his receiving targets all stepped up in their first road game. There was only one drop in the game by true freshman Danny Davis, but the young receiver made up for it the next play with a 17-yard grab to move the chains.
A lot has been made about Hornibrook’s arm strength, but he showed he has enough zip to get the passes where they need to go.
Keep Hornibrook upright and protected, and he can deliver. Three straight 200-yard games now to start 2017, and opposing defenses just cannot sell out against the run like they may have been able to in years past.
There’s something special with Wisconsin’s young players
Maybe we didn’t learn this. Maybe it just needed to be stated. A true freshman in Taylor again led the team in rushing (128 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown) and is on pace for a special 2017 season.
True sophomore Quintez Cephus led the Badgers with five receptions for 54 yards and two touchdowns.
Cephus, sophomore A.J. Taylor, and Davis contributed to 10 of the team’s 18 receptions. Back to those passing “chunk” plays—five of the nine were from those three and the big 50-yard reception from Davis may be the play of the game as it regained momentum after BYU tied it up.
On the defensive side of the ball, redshirt freshman cornerback Dontye Carriere-Williams led the team in tackles (eight) and recorded his first career interception. Fellow redshirt freshman Isaiahh Loudermilk recorded two tackles and sophomore nose tackle Garrett Rand recorded a pass break-up.
We all knew there was talent with these first and second-year players, but credit Wisconsin’s coaching staff for finding and then developing the talent to contribute so early.
What’s funny is that tight end Troy Fumagalli and wide receiver Jazz Peavy—potent targets with game-changing abilities—combined for only three catches on Saturday (though Fumagalli still leads the team with 15 on the season and did record a 19-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter).
That shows how explosive this team can be with multiple options, and how special these younger players are.