Wisconsin hopes to slow BYU
MADISON—BYU’s up-tempo offense faces a potential speed bump in the Midwest.
No. 21 Wisconsin doesn’t get pushed around that easily. Not at Camp Randall Stadium, and especially not in the red zone.
It’s a tale of two tempos when the Cougars visit the Badgers this afternoon in a rare, high-profile nonconference matchup in November.
The BYU offense “will dictate what they dictate,” Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. “The one way we can dictate tempo and dictate pace is to do what we do on offense, and do it well. Run the ball, be physical up front, and put points on the board.”
That’s where Wisconsin’s one-two running back punch of Melvin Gordon and James White comes in. Not only can they help with ball control, but Wisconsin’s running game is so good this dynamic duo can make a dash for the end zone on any carry, especially Gordon (134.3 yards per game).
“They’re pretty hard to have anything imposed on and they’re slow and steady in terms of tempo,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
Five things to know ahead of a matchup between teams with identical records (6-2) scoring at least 32.4 points per game:
WHAT A RUSH: The Cougars can run the ball, too. In fact, the game will feature the only two teams in the FBS to each have two players averaging at least 100 yards rushing. White (100.5 yards) joins Gordon over the century mark, while BYU’s twosome is dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill (105.1) and running back Jamaal Williams (104.7).
Wisconsin also features one of the Big Ten’s top receivers in Jared Abbrederis, who is expected to play after a chest injury last week.
BEST ’BACKERS: Then there are the linebackers, two of the best in the country facing off in BYU’s Kyle Van Noy and Wisconsin’s Chris Borland.
The highly-decorated Van Noy recovered a fumble in the 37-20 win two weeks ago over Boise State, and needs just a blocked kick and forced fumble to record a stat in every major defensive category.
Borland is coming back from a hamstring injury. The Badgers didn’t miss a beat without him last week’s 28-9 win at Iowa, though they’ll surely welcome their defensive leader back.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if both those kids will be a little extra motivated,” Andersen said.
FRIENDLY RIVALRY: The former coach at Utah State, Andersen is more than familiar with Mendenhall, who’s more than just a coaching counterpart.
Mendenhall helped Andersen get an assistant coaching job at Northern Arizona in 1995 when Andersen was a high school assistant. Mendenhall had been the defensive coordinator at Northern Arizona when left for Oregon State.
Fast forward a few years, and Mendenhall owns a 3-1 advantage over Andersen in their BYU-Utah State games. They’re meeting again with the Cougars on Wisconsin’s schedule by coincidence in Andersen’s first season in Madison.
“I’ve grown in my time at Utah State, we’ve become close coaching friends,” Andersen said. “Respect for him. He gave me an opportunity.”
TOUGH HILL: He’s a runner. He’s a thrower. Hill makes the Cougars click.
He’s the key to an offense revamped after the 2012 season to pick up the pace. Still developing as a passer, Hill is sixth in the nation in total offense at 357 yards per game.
And he figures to face his toughest test yet with a stingy Wisconsin defense that’s allowing opponents to score TDs on only 38 percent of red-zone trips, the stingiest mark in the FBS.
“Going to Wisconsin and playing there gives us a great opportunity to make noise on the national level,” Hill said.
JUMP AROUND: First, BYU is going to have to get used to all the noise at Camp Randall Stadium. Badgers backers haven’t seen their beloved team in 28 days—the longest in-season break between home games in school history.
Even worse for the Cougars, a nonconference opponent hasn’t won in Madison since September 2003, a string of 28 straight Wisconsin victories. It’s the second-longest active streak in the FBS, trailing only LSU’s 40-game nonconference run at home that dates back to 2001.
“I feel like it’s been forever since we’ve been in Camp Randall,” tight end Jacob Pedersen said. “To get in front of our fans again, playing in front of them will definitely be a special feeling.”