Hear what Jake has to say ahead of BYU and Wisconsin’s Saturday afternoon matchup (check out our end of the Q&A here):
VTF: Let’s start with Jonathan Taylor. He’s a Heisman candidate and the leading rusher in the country. Do you think he’ll end up winning the award? He ran all over us last year. How many yards do you see him going off for Saturday?
B5Q: In terms of ending up as the eventual Heisman Trophy winner this year, I feel some quarterback will emerge as has been seen in many seasons’ past. That’s nothing against Taylor, who obviously has the game-breaking skills rushing the ball, blending strength, physicality, speed and maturity. In terms of being a complete back, he really has not blossomed into a receiving threat yet though he has worked on running routes during spring and fall practices. His fumbling issues have come up recently, coughing up the ball twice in the first two contests. His name should still be considered in strong consideration, finding his way to New York as a finalist at the very least.
For Saturday, I could see Taylor going for around 150-200 yards, though I feel BYU will stack 8 Cougars in the box to try to stop him. Wide receiver Danny Davis returns from his two-game suspension, so BYU’s defense will have to pick between stopping Wisconsin’s run game (which they likely would first) or try to stop a potent passing game.
VTF: Your defense is a little bit on the younger side, having lost quite a few starters. How is that unit coming along?
B5Q: Jim Leonhard’s defense has looked solid the first two weeks despite losing seven starters and a couple of key contributors from the year prior. Outside of the 87-yard drive they allowed on the first series of the game to New Mexico last week, they held the Lobos to 124 the rest of the game. In my opinion, there is a blend of senior leaders who are playmakers (T.J. Edwards, Ryan Connelly, D’Cota Dixon, Andrew Van Ginkel and Olive Sagapolu) with some unproven talent that has flashed as well (notably the secondary with safety Scott Nelson and cornerbacks Caesar Williams and Faion Hicks). With redshirt sophomore Isaiahh Loudermilk returning to starting last week after offseason surgery, the defensive line is reaffirmed with some depth.
The defense has not been necessarily tested as much this season yet, but in my opinion, they’ve passed their first two of 12 regular season exams very well.
VTF: You guys were actually losing for a hot second last week! What happened there? (Obviously, it ended up okay, but were you worried about anything during that brief time?)
B5Q: From what safety Scott Nelson said after the game, it sounded like the Wisconsin defense just needed to make some adjustments with what New Mexico was throwing at them offensively (more triple-option than the spread look the Lobos showed the week prior). After that first drive, they clamped down pretty quickly.
Wisconsin was never really in any danger of losing the game, or at least that’s how it felt. Even with New Mexico down at the Wisconsin 26 following an interception, UW’s defense is known to clamp down in sudden change situations. Nelson intercepted a third down pass and Wisconsin scores on its next five drives to seal the game.
VTF: If you had to pick one position matchup that concerns you most between BYU and Wisconsin, what would it be?
B5Q: I’m intrigued to see how Wisconsin handles BYU’s tight ends. The defense hasn’t really faced stiff competition in the first two games from that position. When asking Van Ginkel earlier today about who stands out from the Cougars’ offense, he noted the speed of the tight ends. UW will have to contain Moroni Laulu-Pututau and Matt Bushman this week, then take on All-American candidate Noah Fant next week at Iowa in a prime time showdown.
VTF: Instead of asking you for a score prediction, I’ll ask how long you think BYU can stay in this game, or if you think they can?
B5Q: I think BYU can hold up for a while, maybe first half to third quarter-ish, depending upon how Wisconsin’s offense starts. Last week against New Mexico, it was erratic at first with some turnovers. If the Badgers start quickly, watch out, as Jonathan Taylor and its receiving core could be a potent combination.
Despite being relatively green on defense with the new starters, I still feel there is a lot of talent that’s starting to become more comfortable.