As Wisconsin faces off against improved BYU defense, depth in the passing game will be key

Quarterback Alex Hornibrook had a career game against BYU in 2017, and he'll need to rely on his deep receiving corps to replicate that performance on Saturday.

Image By: Brandon Moe

Coming off an impressive performance against the New Mexico Lobos, the No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers (0-0 Big Ten, 2-0 overall) welcome the BYU Cougars (0-0 Independent, 1-1 overall) into Camp Randall Saturday afternoon.

Junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook will be looking to replicate last year’s performance against BYU, when he was 18 of 19 passing and set career highs with 256 yards and four touchdowns in a 40-6 win over the Cougars in Provo, Utah.

The Badgers’ leading receiver in that game was freshman Danny Davis III, who had two receptions for 67 yards, but the Badgers may not be able to rely on Davis quite as heavily this time around, as he’ll be playing in his first game since serving a suspension for his involvement in the Quintez Cephus case.

Although the Badgers will be without three of the top six pass catchers from last year’s matchup, with two lost to graduation and one to suspension, the receiving corps has plenty of depth to fill the gaps. The first two games this season have seen a breakout by redshirt junior A.J. Taylor, who leads the Big Ten with 109.5 yards per game on 10 catches, along with a touchdown last week against New Mexico.

“The mindset it really has been to make every catch, to block for J.T. and to like you said to really ball out, grind and just be a savage,” Taylor said.

The Cougars defense so far this year has been up to the challenge presented to them — they upset Arizona in week one by holding their offense to 326 total yards and just 23 points. In a week two loss to Cal they still held the Bears’ offense to 21 points. Although he saw no action in last year’s game, redshirt sophomore receiver Kendric Pryor sees significant changes that the Cougars have made on that side of the ball from 2017.

“They have gotten more athletic on the defensive side, they have moved some people around, such as corners to safeties and safeties to linebackers to help get their defense more athletic,” Pryor said. “We are not going in with the same mentality that it is the same BYU team as last year, because we aren’t the same Wisconsin team as last year, but they are a savvy and physical defense so it will be interesting.”

Head coach Paul Chryst echoed what his sophomore wide receiver had to say about being a different team, and noted that unlike last year, BYU will likely get a full game from quarterback Tanner Mangum. Chryst said that last year’s win wasn’t considered heavily in assessing this year’s game because of the different quarterback situation.

The final storyline to watch is how sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor will do against the BYU running defense. BYU has held opponents to 150 rushing yards a game, while Taylor alone is averaging 199 yards a game.

“Shedding blocks is going to be really important this week. Our hands are going to have to be really quick because they will have a blocker for everybody,” BYU senior linebacker Sione Takitaki told reporters this week. “Somebody has to make a play, so someone has to get off a blocker.”

Although BYU is three-touchdown underdogs heading into the weekend, Chryst cautioned that this game should not be overlooked.

“When you watch the film of their first two games, that grabs not only coaches, but our players’ attention. We know we’ve got to have a good week of preparation. We know its is going to be a heckuva ball game.”

Kickoff will be Saturday at 2:30 pm at Camp Randall.

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