Coming off of a near perfect performance against Boise State, and with a bye week to heal and prepare, BYU will be traveling to Wisconsin this week to take on the Badgers in front of over 80,000 fans at Camp Randall Stadium.
Wisconsin (6-2) (4-1 Big Ten) is currently riding a three game winning streak and coming off of a 28-9 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes. They are ranked #24 in the most recent BCS Standings.
The first of two blemishes on Wisconsin’s schedule this season came while on the road against the Arizona State Sun Devils. The Badgers 32-30 loss ended in controversy due to time management by the officials – an ending which if handled differently could’ve given Wisconsin a chance to kick the game winning field goal as time expired. Their second loss of the season came two weeks later while on the road against in-conference and top 5 ranked opponent Ohio State, where they fell short 31-24. The average score in each of Wisconsin’s wins this season is 42-9.
Run for it!
Wisconsin likes to run the ball, and they do it well. Averaging 287 rushing yards per game, they are currently ranked 10th in rushing offense. They have rushed for a grand total of 2,296 yards this season. They lead in the country with eight rushes of 50+ yards.
Melvin Gordon (124 carries) and James White (127) have virtually split their carries down the middle, though Gordon has proven more efficient on his carries, averaging 8.7 YPC compared to 6.3 YPC for White. The only other running back who has received a significant amount of touches is Corey Clement who is averaging 7.4 YPC on his 55 carries. Clement didn’t play against Iowa.
An interesting statistic in regards to the run game is that the Badgers and BYU are the only two teams in the country to have at least two players averaging at least 100 rushing yards per game.
Through the air
When Wisconsin does choose to pass the ball (which is only 36% of the time), quarterback Joel Stave has been consistent. His 63% completion percentage and 1,630 passing yards have been impressive, as well as his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 15/7.
All-Big Ten receiver Jared Abbrederis leads the team in receptions (46) and receiving yards (782), including 6 touchdowns. Abbrederis left the Iowa game due to a chest injury suffered on a touchdown reception, and did not return to action. Coach Gary Andersen says he expects Abbrederis to be fine.
On the defensive side of the ball Wisconsin is led by mid-season All-American Linebacker Chris Borland. Borland leads the Badgers in total tackles with 57. In addition to his pivotal role in stopping opponents rushing attacks, head coach Gary Andersen has asked Borland to take on additional responsibilities. Before Wisconsin’s 35-6 win against Northwestern, Coach Anderson asked Borland to deliver the pre-game speech to his teammates. He is also ready to kick any long range field goals (45+ yards) if asked to do so. (In fact, the whole story of Wisconsin’s kicking game can be found here).
Due to a recurring hamstring injury suffered in the first quarter against Illinois, Borland was unable to practice last week leading up to the Iowa game, and did not play in the Iowa game. Borland himself says that he expects to play against BYU this week.
Here is quick a look at Wisconsin’s defensive rankings and statistics.
Total Defense: 6th, allowing just 4.3 yards per play and only 286 yards per game.
Rushing Defense: 5th, allowing 2.9 yards per rush and 91 rushing yards per game.
Passing Defense: 15th, allowing 10.7 yards per completion and 195.1 passing yards per game.
3rd Down Conversion pct. Defense: 6th, keeping opponents 3rd completion pct. to 29%. BYU's offense ranks 100th in the country with a 34% 3rd down completion percentage.
Wisconsin has 18 sacks on the season.
State of the Program/Expectations:
Wisconsin entered this season coming off of a 7-5 record and their third straight Big Ten title (thanks in part to the sanctions levied against Ohio State and Penn State). Following the resignation of head coach Bret Bielema, Wisconsin hired (now former) Utah State coach Gary Andersen as his replacement. Vegas figured that this would lead to improvement this year as they are predicting Wisconsin to win 8.5 games this season.
Currently trailing Ohio State in the Big Ten Leaders division, Wisconsin is hoping for the Buckeyes to drop a couple of conference games before the season ends to land them in the Big Ten title game. ESPN currently has the Badgers projected to participate in either the Orange Bowl against Florida State or the Sugar Bowl against South Carolina.
Wisconsin vs. BYU
Wisconsin has started the week as a 9 point favorite in Vegas, but this is an extremely interesting match-up. On paper, Wisconsin’s offensive strength (two strong backs) plays right into BYU’s defensive strength (strong front seven). BYU’s offensive strength (mobile QB, solid RB), plays right into Wisconsin’s strong defense. Which team will be more successful at softening up the opposing defense through the air? Which Butkus Award watch list linebacker will have a bigger impact on the game, Kyle Van Noy or Chris Borland (assuming Borland is cleared to play)? What kind of role will turnovers play?
It will be important for BYU to not let Wisconsin get up on them big in the first half, as the Badgers have outscored their opponents 154-44 in the second half of games this season. Wisconsin has done a good job at playing a solid four quarter game, as they have scored 153 points in the first half this season, and 154 in the second half.
One important factor to keep in mind about this game is Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen. Andersen knows BYU as well as anyone in the country. He is familiar with their schemes. He is familiar with their personnel - both coaches and players. In 2010 he was able to coach the Utah State Aggies to their first win against BYU in over a decade. Of anyone in the country who knows how to best game plan for BYU, Gary Andersen has to be right up there with Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
BYU has quietly been one of the hotter teams in the country these past few weeks with impressive wins over Utah State, Georgia Tech, Houston and Boise State. They will be coming into this match-up with Wisconsin as a dangerous team with a lot of confidence.
This should make for one of the more exciting games of the season on both of these team’s schedules.
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This game is a road game and can be viewed on ESPN at 1:30 MST.