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In beating Wisconsin, BYU Football followed “The Anatomy of An Upset”

When you are an underdog, you don’t need to outplay your opponent. You just have to have more big plays.

NCAA Football: Brigham Young at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The BYU Cougars defeated the Wisconsin Badgers on the road, 24-21. It was awesome. Was? It still is awesome!

Despite the Cougars physical play, tough mentality, and calculated risks, it is fair to look back that the numbers and wonder, “How did that happen?”

That is exactly what former BYU quarterback Ryan Hancock did:

In every traditional statistic, BYU was outplayed by Wisconsin. The Cougars were out-rushed, out-passed, and out-possessed. Wisconsin had 20 more plays than the Cougars.

So, how did BYU pull off the upset?

Last week, on my podcast, CougarCast, I discussed the “Anatomy of An Upset.” Full disclosure, I, in no way predicted that the Cougars were going to beat the Badgers. That didn’t happen. However, I did cover what the Cougars would need to do to pull off the victory as a 23-point underdog.

My methodology was simple. I took a look at the 4 biggest upsets of the last decade and I wondered how they were won. I poured over the details of the 2007 game between 42-point dog Stanford and #2 USC in the LA Coliseum, the 45-point FCS underdog Howard win at UNLV last season, FCS James Madison’s win in Lane Stadium against Virginia Tech, and Appalachian State’s famous victory over Michigan in the Big House.

From this, I was able to see 5 main factors in an overmatched road team ability to win, which gave me a basic premise to look at the “Anatomy of An Upset” to find out what exactly would need to happen if BYU were to win at Wisconsin.

So, here they are, the 5 parts of the “Anatomy of an Upset.” If you are interested, here’s a link to the podcast itself, the “Anatomy of an Upset” begins at the 11:30 mark.

Part 1 - Score touchdowns while the opponent score field goals

This is the only one that wasn’t truly applicable to the Cougars win over Wisconsin. Wisconsin didn’t make any field goals. The Badgers made more red zone trips than the Y. Wisconsin scored 3 TDs on their 3 visits within the Y 20-yard line. Fortunately, BYU was ruthless when they were in scoring range as well. The Cougars were a perfect 2-for-2 in the red zone conversions into touchdowns.

Since this wasn’t a part of what happened on Saturday, the Cougars picked up the slack in the other areas of the upset equation.

Part 2 - Turnovers

Zayne Anderson’s interception early in the 3rd quarter on Alex Hornibrook set the Cougars up at the Wisconsin 27-yard line. It was the only turnover of the game. BYU doesn’t beat Wisconsin without it. Not only did it give the Cougars possession. It set them up with a short field.

Meanwhile, the Cougars took care of the ball. They made Wisconsin work to the fullest extent for every single point they earned.

Part 3 - Explosive, big plays

Entering the Wisconsin game. BYU only had 1 play that gained 30 yards. That was next to last in college football. Only Northern Illinois and Rutgers were less explosive.

Against Wisconsin, the Cougars had 3 plays that went for 30 yards or more. 2 of which were 40+ yard rushes by Squally Canada. The other was the busted coverage trick play 31-yard TD. 121 of BYU’s 311 total yards came on these 3 plays. That’s 38.9% of our offensive output. It took the other 48 plays to gain 190 yards.

Beyond that, all of BYU 17 points that were scored without the benefit of a turnover providing great field position came on a drive that had one of the 3 plays listed above.

Essentially, Wisconsin’s defense did their job. They simply blew it on 3 downs and BYU made them pay in a big way.

Part 4 - Clutch plays

BYU outperformed Wisconsin on 3rd down. They had a better conversion rate. Everyone remembers the 3rd and 19 the Badgers made in the 1st half. But it what speaks even more loudly to the result of the Y’s upset are the forgettable, but important 9 stops the Cougars forced on 3rd down.

Beyond that, the gutsy moment where BYU trusted their players to make a big play and the players doing it happened. It was the game winning field goal by BYU freshman Skyler Southam. Southam was stone cold on his 45-yarder. In addition, the work by holder Gavin Fowler on that field goal attempt was heroic. The Cougars needed a clutch play and Fowler’s scoop and set on that play was sublime.

To win as a heavy underdog, everyone has to do their job. Even the holder. That was clutch.

Part 5 - Hang tough

BYU absolutely did everything they needed to do to respond to any of the challenges and responses they faced in Camp Randall. They played poised. They had leadership. They answered the call when they had to. The Y played loose. They were jumping around before the 4th quarter. They pushed Wisconsin and slowly caused more panic to enter their sidelines.

By the time, Rafael Gaglianone was sent out to tie the gamem their senior Lou Groza watchlist kicker had to make a kick to save his teams aspirations of breaking though into the College Football playoff. So, Kalani Sitake let him sit with that pressure a little bit longer. Then he did it again. (He was also trying to let Corbin Kaufusi catch his breath.)

And then it happened.

The GAGlianone.

BYU was able to pull off the upset the way most underdogs do. They followed the formula. They didn’t need to outplay the Badgers. They just had to make big plays. On Saturday, the Y lost in the traditional stats categories. That’s just fine. They won on the scoreboard.

After 9 seasons of podcasting BYU Football, I’m not sure I’ve found another angle that worked out quite as nicely.

Here is what a couple of nice listeners sent me on twitter: