MADISON—A deflating loss leaves Wisconsin with a previously unlikely blemish on its record heading into conference play after a 24-21 upset by the visiting BYU inside Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.
Wisconsin (2-1) outgained BYU (2-1) 394-311, chewed up more clock and statistically had more pleasing numbers, but a key turnover in the third quarter and some costly mistakes in all three phases of the game led to UW’s first loss of the season.
Before rivalry week really kicks off with a dangerous divisional foe in Iowa, under the lights of Kinnick Stadium, here are three things we learned from the Badgers’ loss to the Cougars.
Wisconsin’s defense is susceptible to big plays
Count ‘em—BYU had three “chunk plays” of 15 or more yards through the air, with another six of 10-plus yards on the ground against a normally reliable Wisconsin unit.
That included two 40-plus yard runs by Squally Canada that came with a handoff to the back while motion was carried out as a decoy.
“We just didn’t execute,” Edwards said about the play of the defense. “I think gameplan wise we were there. We just missed tackles, out of gaps. When you do that, you won’t win.”
Jim Leonhard’s defense also fell for a trick play that resulted in Moroni Laulu-Pututau’s 31-yard touchdown reception to give the Cougars the lead, something safety D’Cota Dixon took ownership on.
“I had us in the wrong call on our side of the ball,” Dixon said. “That was on me. That’s totally on me, so I’ll have to be better and I will be better.”
Outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel—arguably one of the biggest playmakers on the defense—left the game in the first quarter and did not return. He was later seen with a boot around his right foot and his status for Saturday night’s match-up against Iowa will be something to watch during the week.
If he’s not available, Wisconsin’s task to continue to keep the Heartland Trophy, as well as earn a win in a decisive Big Ten West division match-up, just got a lot tougher.
It was a team loss
We already described the defensive performance for Wisconsin in giving up big plays, something I’ll explore in a feature that will be published later on Sunday, but the offense committed key mistakes and the special teams had theirs as well (not just Rafael Gaglianone’s missed 42-yard attempt with 41 seconds left).
Offensively, Alex Hornibrook threw a terrible interception that led to BYU’s third and final touchdown of the game in the third quarter. Tight end Kyle Penniston’s false start on a 4th-and-1 in the same quarter derails what would have been an easier conversion. Wide receiver Danny Davis dropped the first passing attempt of the game on Wisconsin’s first offensive play of the day. BYU matched UW’s physicality and then some.
Special teams-wise, a late punt is allowed to roll to the UW 8, setting up the offense to go nearly the length of the field to tie the game.
As redshirt senior safety D’Cota Dixon said when asked about Gaglianone apologizing to teammates after the game for missing the game-tying field goal:
“Raf’s a great guy, he’s a leader,” Dixon said. “He takes ownership and that’s just the type of person he is. I think we all are. All of our guys are kind of built like that. We take ownership of our one-eleventh. One of those touchdowns was because of me, specifically, and I know that, so it’s not just his fault. It’s not just my fault. It’s a football game. It’s a team. It’s 60 minutes of football, you know? And we just came up short today, but Raf is a leader and he’ll get better from this, too.”
Wisconsin players still believe goals are still attainable
Is it, it being the College Football Playoff, worth even discussing right now after the Badgers’ play on Saturday? Probably not at this moment, but when asked if the playoff talk should be put on hold, nose tackle Olive Sagapolu did not necessarily agree.
“Uh, I wouldn’t say so. That’s still kind of a goal. It’s just one loss. You can’t really get down on ourselves,” Sagapolu said. “It’s more just, yeah it’s just a loss, but it’s a good chance for us to kind of see what we did wrong and how we can adjust and come back and fix it.”
Obviously, so much can change between now and the end of the season. Wisconsin’s defense looked relatively good-to-very-good the first two games, then was punched in the face and dazed by a BYU offense that utilized its physicality and a lot of motion. That needs to be fixed quickly before heading to Iowa City.
Simply put, in my honest opinion, Wisconsin needs to win out to have any shot at the CFP. That includes going on the road and defeating Iowa, Michigan and Penn State as well as upending fellow divisional rivals at Northwestern and Purdue (despite their respective records and recent losses...more on those later). The Wolverines played well on Saturday, and after their close call against Appalachian State two weeks ago, Penn State has looked very solid in dominating wins over Pitt and Kent State.
Yet to be fair, the opportunity is there no matter how difficult. Wisconsin can still win the division, but that really means it needs to run the table since Iowa would be the tie breaker and the Hawkeyes’ schedule is not necessarily that difficult on paper (though LOL the rest of the division currently and who knows what happens after this week). If the Badgers want CFP consideration, they need to win out, and that includes defeating whoever comes out of the East if they make it to the Big Ten Championship game.
When asked if there was a silver lining in the loss being of the non-conference variety, Dixon mentioned “all our goals are still there.”
“Everything is still in front of us. You just got to keep playing one game at a time, one play at a time. Just got to attend to the details this week, and we’ll get better tomorrow. We’ll watch film and we’ll get better tomorrow, and we’ll be right where we want to be.”
Edwards echoed similar feelings when asked if his perspective changed from the playoff/championship talk from earlier this year—noting those goals start with beating Iowa this week and winning the division.
We shall see what happens on Saturday.
Also, since I was writing this at 1 a.m. CT in the morning, two extra ones:
Bonus lesson No. 1: Jake Ferguson and Taiwan Deal are bright spots for this offense
All three receptions for the redshirt freshman tight end went for first down, and he averaged over 20 yards per reception on Saturday. Seven of Ferguson’s eight receptions have gone for first down this season, with five of those eight coming on third down.
For an offense with three capable wide receivers, having Ferguson emerge as a threat can only help Wisconsin in the passing game moving forward.
Deal’s stat line does not look necessarily robust (six carries, 15 yards), but he found the end zone twice in the loss—the first time he has scored a touchdown since the last regular season game of the 2015 season.
You have to feel happy for the redshirt senior on fighting through and becoming who I believe is the true No. 2 back behind Jonathan Taylor.
Bonus lesson No. 2: Drew Hamm will have his hands full with this week’s B1G Roast
***Checks Big Ten records this week***
Oh dear. Oh my.