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BYU vs. Wisconsin: Getting to know the Cougars

Some statistical breakdown and Q&A with Vanquish the Foe

NCAA Football: California at Brigham Young Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers will welcome the BYU Cougars to Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday afternoon for their final non-conference match-up of the regular season.

BYU (1–1) enters the game fresh off a 21–18 home-opening loss to former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and the Cal Bears last Saturday. The Cougars and head coach Kalani Sitake look to move forward after a rough 4–9 campaign in 2017.

Quarterback Tanner Mangum and the Cougars currently rank tied for 94th in points per game (23), 98th in rushing yards (137), and 105th in total yards per game (339.5). They have only converted 37.9 percent of their third-down opportunities as well.

Magnum has completed 40 of 69 pass attempts for 405 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Running back Squally Canada has gained only 147 yards on a 3.7 per-carry average.

Tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututa leads the team in receptions (eight receptions, 80 yards), with 2018 John Mackey Award watch list candidate Matt Bushman (three, 46, one touchdown) also as a potential target.

“They got a lot of speed at their tight end position,” Wisconsin outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel said on Wednesday. “They’re strong, and they’re a big offensive line. They like to get the edge. They’re big, and they’re going do what they can to move you, and they like a lot of zone-reads with their skill guys. They got a lot of speed out there as well. It’s kind of what we’re used to with our offense with the two-tight end looks and stuff like that, so we should be ready for it. We just got to be prepared for the flies [fly sweeps] and stuff like that.”

Defensively, the Cougars have given up 22 points per game in their first two contests but have allowed 150.5 yards per contest on the ground, holding them tied for 75th in the nation in rush defense.

Senior linebacker Zayne Anderson currently leads the team in tackles with 17.

The unit as a whole, however, has only forced five tackles for loss, one sack, and one interception in its first two games.

To help us break down more of the Cougars, Vanquish the Foe’s Mary Blanchard answered some of our questions.

Wisconsin saw the 2017 edition of BYU last year. What have been the major changes to this year’s Cougars team?

Thanks for putting that so nicely, haha. I would say one of several major changes is the revamping of the offensive coaching staff. We had a lot of guys without experience last year, and we’ve got a lot of guys with more experience this year, especially our new offensive coordinator, Jeff Grimes, who came to us from LSU.

In the Arizona game, Grimes’s play calling was like a healing balm to our souls. It was a little more questionable in the Cal game, but hopefully it’ll level out. I think the added experience to the offensive staff has just helped our overall mentality. We didn’t really think we could win last year (and we didn’t).

After a win against Arizona, the BYU offense only gained 287 yards and less than four yards per carry. What has gone well with Tanner Mangum and the offense in two games, and what did not go well against Cal?

Yeah. The Cal game was weird. At the start of the game, our offense was moving the ball but stalling out … and then we stopped moving the ball sometime before halftime and never really started again. I told the Cal blog that one of their keys to winning would be to rattle Tanner Mangum, and keep our offensive line at bay. Cal was able to do both things. Our running game was nonexistent, which I would say was the main difference between our first and second games.

For the defense, who are the key playmakers for the Cougars, and where are there concerns heading into Saturday’s match-up?

Well, DB Dayan Ghanwoloku had two turnovers against Cal (a fumble he picked up and returned for a TD and then he got the ball back for us on a fumbled punt). LB Butch Pau’u forced the fumble that Ghanwoloku scored on, so I would look out for those two.

I also really like DL Corbin Kaufusi, DL Khyiris Tonga, and LB Sione Takitaki. Our leading tackler was LB Zayne Anderson. He is super speedy and totaled 12 tackles against Cal (nine solo, one for loss).

As for concerns—our linebackers in coverage concern me, and just our secondary in general.

Wisconsin fans remember former quarterback Austin Kafentzis before he transferred out after one spring. It appears on the depth chart that he is down at safety after initially playing on offense, but the stats say he has played in two games and recorded a tackle. Has he played a role on this team in some fashion?

Yes! Austin Kafentzis! I am personally a huge fan of his and see such potential in him. He’s just such a great athlete which can sometimes create problems, because if you can play any position, then sometimes they try putting you at every position and you just don’t really stick anywhere. I fear that’s what has happened to Kafentzis. We’ve seen him at QB and RB so far, and yes, he is on the depth chart at safety, but to be honest, I haven’t even noticed him being in as of yet, so I can’t say he’s really played a role this year thus far. I wish he’d go back to running back! That’s where I see him making the most impact. Dude is shifty.

Where do you think BYU could give Wisconsin problems, and what’s your prediction for the game?

I wish I could say that I think BYU could give Wisconsin problems anywhere, but I just can’t confidently say that. Between what happened to us at LES last year vs. Wisconsin and our poor showing against Cal last week, my hopes are not high.

It may be close for a quarter, a quarter and a half if I’m being super hopeful, but I see Wisconsin running away with this one in a potentially ugly (for BYU fans) manner. I so hope to be eating my words!