MADISON – Perhaps all that talk about qualifying for the College Football Playoff will end.
Sixth-ranked Wisconsin, which went 12-0 in the regular season in 2017 and was labeled the prohibitive favorite to win the Big Ten West title this season, gave arguably its worst overall performance in 44 games under Paul Chryst on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
Unranked BYU came in and outplayed UW in all phases and stunned a crowd of 80,720 by pulling off a 24-21 upset that surely will surprise observers from coast to coast.
The contrast in emotions from both sides after UW senior kicker Rafael Gaglianone missed a 42-yard field-goal attempt with 36 seconds left was palpable.
UW’s players were a mix of surprise, disappointment and resolve.
“It sucks, obviously,” said UW senior safety D’Cota Dixon, whose coverage bust resulted in a 31-yard touchdown pass that broke a 7-7 tie in the second quarter. “Anytime you lose, it hurts. All the preparation you put in, the guys you’ve been practicing with all week.
“It hurts to see the guys’ reaction on their faces on the sideline, having to accept the loss. It’s not necessarily the loss itself. It’s the opportunity we let go.
“But it’s fuel. I’ll make sure of that. We won’t skip a beat. It’ll be fuel, and we’ll get better from it.”
Meanwhile, BYU coach Kalani Sitake was giddy. Remember that BYU suffered an embarrassing 40-6 home loss to UW last season en route to a 4-9 finish.
BOX SCORE: BYU 24, UW 21
GAME BLOG: UW-BYU review
“That was fun; I don’t even know where to start,” said Sitake, whose offense outfoxed UW’s defense for most of the afternoon. “A lot of respect to Wisconsin though and their program. I talked about how much I admire their program and the tradition and the smash-mouth style football that they play.
“What we do as an offense and as a team (is patterned) after what they do and I’m excited that we came out with a win. But more than anything, that our guys were a lot more physical this year than they were last year.
“It shows a lot of improvement and hard work from our players.”
UW, a three-touchdown favorite, saw its record fall to 2-1 with the Big Ten opener at Iowa a week away. The Badgers also lost outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel and tight end Zander Neuville because of leg injuries in the first half.
BYU, which had lost at home one week earlier to California, improved to 2-1.
“It hurts,” UW linebacker T.J. Edwards said. “There are a lot of competitive guys in there and we don’t want to lose ever. It stings, but all we can do right now is look at film and move forward.
“It has to come from the leaders to get us out of this slump. It is going to be a fun next couple of days to see how we respond.”
The response has to come from all three phases because UW’s overall game was, at times, awful.
BYU entered the day averaging 3.6 yards per carry, 339.5 total yards per game and had scored five offensive touchdowns in two games.
Offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes killed UW’s defense with a mix of jet sweeps and a dose of tailback Squally Canada between the tackles. Canada came in averaging 3.7 yards per carry and 73.5 yards per game. He rushed 11 times for 118 yards and two scores against UW.
His 44-yard run to the UW 28 set up the Cougars’ first touchdown. His 46-yard run to the UW 29 set up the Cougars’ winning field goal, a 45-yarder by freshman Skyler Southam with 9 minutes 58 seconds left.
“They out-executed us,” said Edwards, who recorded only three tackles and criticized his play. “Game plan we were right there. We knew what was coming, but we didn’t get off blocks. We were in the wrong gaps … missed tackles.
“I take a lot of that stuff on myself and the unit. We have to be better if we want our team to win.”
UW’s offense never established a consistent attack on the ground or through the air.
Jonathan Taylor came in averaging 7.8 yards per carry and 199.0 yards per game. He finished with 117 yards on 26 carries, with a long run of 15 yards and a 4.5-yard average. Taiwan Deal and fullback Alec Ingold provided the scoring. Deal scored on runs of 2 and 5 yards. Ingold added a 2-yard run.
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook threw a costly interception in the third quarter, in a tie game and after UW’s defense recorded a three-and-out.
BYU drove 27 yards in six plays the go-ahead score, a 2-yard run by Canada with 9:54 left in the third.
UW’s return units didn’t provide a spark and Gaglianone’s miss ended the Badgers’ hopes of winning
UW had a chance to send the game into overtime, but Rafael Gaglianone missed a 42-yard field-goal attempt to the left with 36 seconds left.
“I’m going to have to go back and look at it on film,” Gaglianone said. “It was disappointing letting the team down, but I’m not going to let one play define me – or define this season.”