Wisconsin Football: Initial thoughts on BYU

TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 01: Running back Squally Canada #22 of the Brigham Young Cougars rushes the football against the Arizona Wildcats during the college football game at Arizona Stadium on September 1, 2018 in Tucson, Arizona. The Cougars defeated the Wildcats 28-23. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 01: Running back Squally Canada #22 of the Brigham Young Cougars rushes the football against the Arizona Wildcats during the college football game at Arizona Stadium on September 1, 2018 in Tucson, Arizona. The Cougars defeated the Wildcats 28-23. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /
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Wisconsin Football plays host to BYU on Saturday afternoon. Badger of Honor has some early thoughts on the Cougars.

Last year’s game between Wisconsin Football and BYU in Provo was not much of a contest. The Cougars had high expectations at the start of the season, but the Badgers blew them out to a tune of 40-6 on their own turf.

Wisconsin dominated BYU from start to finish on both sides of the ball. Alex Hornibrook was 18/19 passing for 256 yards and 4 touchdowns, setting a program record for completion percentage. Jonathan Taylor also had a big day, rushing for 128 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.

The defense was also outstanding, holding BYU to just 192 total yards. T.J. Edwards and the now-departed Dontye Carriere-Williams each recorded an interception as well.

The Cougars ultimately went 4-9 in what was a very disappointing 2017 campaign. That being said, they appear to be a better team this season early on. Have they improved enough to give Wisconsin a fight in Camp Randall this weekend?

Here are some quick thoughts on how the Cougars match up with the Badgers.

1. Which BYU team will show up against Wisconsin?

The Cougars opened up the season with a huge victory over Arizona in Tucson, taking out the Wildcats and their outstanding quarterback Khalil Tate 28-23. BYU looked sharp on both sides of the ball in that matchup.

However, the Cougars were not able to carry over the momentum from that victory to last week’s game against Cal. They struggled to get anything going on offense and ultimately lost to the Bears 21-18 at home.

Which version of BYU will show up at Camp Randall on Saturday? Version A could give the Badgers a legitimate fight, while Version B would likely be blown out by the Cardinal and White.

2. The BYU offense will likely struggle to put points on the board against this Wisconsin defense.

The Cougars’ offense revolves around running back Squally Canada and quarterback Tanner Mangum.

Canada is the best running back on Wisconsin has faced to this point in the season. He looked pretty good in BYU’s win over Arizona, rushing for 98 yards and 3 touchdowns. However, it took him 24 carries to get there, and his longest run was only 9 yards. He followed that up with a performance against Cal that was certainly nothing to write home about: 49 yards on 16 carries with no touchdowns.

Mangum is the x-factor for this team. He came to BYU as a highly-regarded recruit, as 247Sports ranked him as a 4-star prospect and the No. 3 pro-style quarterback in the nation. He made an impact immediately as a true freshman in 2015, throwing for 3377 yards and 23 touchdowns. Since then, his career has been plagued by injuries.

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Mangum is healthy now as a senior, but his play thus far in 2018 has been up and down. Like BYU as a whole, he played well against Arizona, going 18-28 with 209 yards and a touchdown. However, he struggled in the matchup with Cal, only mustering a 22-41 passing line to go along with a touchdown and two interceptions.

Overall the play of Canada and Mangum, the Cougars’ two biggest offensive weapons, can best be described as average so far this season. Wisconsin’s defense has been outstanding through two games, and it’s tough to envision the BYU offense being able to muster many points come Saturday.

3.  BYU is going to need to ride its defense to be competitive against the Badgers.

It appears as though the defense will be the identity of this BYU team in 2018.

As mentioned, the Cougars primary focus in Week 1 was on shutting down one of the nation’s most lethal offensive weapons in Khalil Tate, especially on the ground. They accomplished that goal, and it was the reason they won the game.

The BYU defense played pretty well last week against Cal as well, though the numbers don’t necessarily indicate that. In a game in which the offense struggled to move the ball, the defense was the only reason the Cougars were in the game at all, despite having to stay on the field much of the game as a result of BYU’s anemic offense.

The defense got the ball back for BYU three times, once on an interception and twice on fumble recoveries, including one that was taken to the house for a crucial touchdown.

If the Cougars are going to give the Badgers a competitive game, they will need their defense to step up and contain Jonathan Taylor the way it did Khalil Tate, as well as force a few turnovers.

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Overall BYU looks to be an improved team from last season, but it difficult to say to what extent at this point. The Cougars’ performance last week does not leave me with much confidence that this will be a close contest. When we came out with our season predictions, I picked Wisconsin to win handily 42-14, and I’ll stick with that now.