After playing close to perfect last season in a win 40-6 against BYU in Provo, Utah, the Wisconsin Badgers were far from perfect Saturday afternoon.
The BYU Cougars (0-0 Mountain West, 2-1 overall) stunned the No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers (0-0 Big Ten, 2-1 overall) in a shocking 24-21 win, ending Wisconsin’s 41 game non-conference home winning streak.
Sophomore wide receiver Danny Davis III returned from suspension this week and was implemented back into the offense quickly. The first play of the game was a pass by junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook towards Davis, but the receiver dropped the ball. This play was a microcosm of the game as the Badgers struggled to get any momentum on offense, giving a sense it would be a long day.
Wisconsin’s inexperienced defense had been strong so far this season allowing only 9.5 points per game. Saturday, BYU was able break UW’s defense as they gained 311 total yards and the defense finally seemed to show their youth. BYU head coach Kalani Sitake seemed to have game-planned specifically to test the young squad, and BYU used lots of jet sweep motion throughout the game that confused the Badgers and allowed the Cougars to get big plays.
“There were a lot of smoke and mirrors in their offense, throw your eyes around and get you off track and it worked,” linebacker Zack Baun said.
BYU’s offense racked up six plays of 15 yards or more with the jet sweep package, but the more of those “smoke and mirrors” were used on the biggest play of the day. Tanner Mangum lateralled the ball to junior wide receiver Aleva Hifo who threw it to the completely uncovered junior tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau. The tight end waltzed into the endzone as the Cougars went up 14-7 and highlighted just how thrown off the Badgers had been.
“I had us in the wrong call, I was anticipating my safety to my right to be there, but I didn’t see that he had a guy on his side of the field and it was a communication error and it cost us in that situation,” senior safety D’Cota Dixon said.
Redshirt sophomore Kendric Pryor thought the Cougars may pose a challenge as they were a more athletic team than last year.
Pryor was right.
The linebackers and secondary were flying all over the field and were able to hold sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor to 117 rushing yards and 4.5 yards per carry. Even when the offensive line created holes on the first level, the linebackers caused havoc in the run game.
“They were flying around, they are fast, physical up front and they are a really good defense,” Dieter said. “If we’re off at all like we were, a defense like that is going sink their teeth into that and they did, so hats off to them they played really good today and we didn’t.”
Not much worked well for the Badgers on the day. Even the special teams unit performed poorly. While the game came down to a missed 42-yard field goal by senior kicker Rafael Gaglianone, the rest of the unit failed to execute as well. Punt and kick returners struggled to judge kicks. After the Wisconsin defense forced an important stop and the Cougars kicked the ball away with 3:55 to go in the game, sophomore Jack Dunn let the ball bounce to the eight-yard line. instead of catching it at the 20, 12 crucial yards that head coach Paul Chryst noted were extremely valuable to help out Gaglianone in that situation.
And while Gaglianone’s missed field goal is the one mistake that will be remembered, Chryst and the other senior leaders want to make sure it’s the culmination of all the mistakes made that led to this talented Badgers team needing to get a game-tying field goal at home against BYU.
“Anytime you lose it hurts, after all of the preparation that you put in with the guys that you have been practicing with all week but it hurts even worse to see the reactions on guys faces on the sideline having to accept a lost,” Dixon said. “It’s fuel, it’ll be fuel, I’ll be sure of that and we won’t skip a beat and we will get better from this.”