The No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers take on the BYU Cougars Saturday afternoon inside Camp Randall.
Wisconsin (2-0) upended New Mexico in a comfortable 45-14 win with career-high performances from Jonathan Taylor and A.J. Taylor. The Badgers’ defense stymied the Lobos’ offense to 211 total yards and forced three turnovers.
BYU (1-1), on the other hand, lost its home opener last Saturday to Cal after defeating Kevin Sumlin’s Arizona squad to start the 2018 season on the right note. Tanner Magnum and the Cougars head to Madison to try to upset the Badgers.
Here are some keys to Wisconsin to continue to be undefeated in non-conference play:
Win Turnover Battle
One common theme between Wisconsin and BYU has been control of the football, or lack there of. Both the Badgers and Cougars have turned the ball over three times to start the season. Wisconsin’s struggle has been Jonathan Taylor’s ball security. Taylor fumbled eight times year, with the Badgers losing six of them. With fumbles in the first two contests, he’s on pace to eclipse that mark.
BYU has struggled in the passing game, with Magnum throwing two interceptions and fumbling last week to follow up a season where he tossed nine interceptions in just six games. While both players are keys to each offense’s production, the turnovers are glaring and will be important on Saturday afternoon.
If the Badgers can force a few turnovers AND play clean, they should be able to really put the pressure on the Cougar offense that struggled to produce last week. Its clear going against the Wisconsin defense will be difficult, and if you force turnovers UW can add pressure to this week’s opponent.
Attack the secondary
BYU’s defense has been good in both games to start the season. In the season opener, they shut down one of the nations most prolific players in country in quarterback Khalil Tate. Last week, the Cougars only allowed 21 points despite being on the field for a long portion of the game. If there was one struggle for BYU, it has been in the secondary. The defensive backs limited Tate’s ability to run, but he was able to make some serious plays throwing the football.
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook will look to do the same on Saturday and he gets one of his favorite weapons back to a receiving core that has already been good. With sophomore Danny Davis returning from suspension, the Badgers will now have three prolific receivers to help in the passing game.
With A.J. Taylor getting most of the focus early, Davis and Kendric Pryor should have good opportunities to make plays. To add to that, Davis is much more of a deep threat than both Taylor and Pryor, and should be able to get downfield against the BYU secondary. The Cougars have also struggled with pass interference calls, being flagged for two huge calls in their first contest.
Take advantage of third down
If you watched BYU’s home opener against California last week there was probably one thing that stood out to you: BYU’s struggle to maintain drives. The stuggles were magnified on third down, with the Cougars converting on only four of their ten opportunties last week.
On the opposite side of the football BYU is one of the worst in the nation in this category, allowing their opponents to convert nearly half the time (14-for-30, T-117th). For the Badgers, they’ve always been comfortable on third down and currently rank in the top ten in third down conversions (13-for-22, tied for tenth with Oklahoma).
Third down could be the back breaker for BYU. If the Badgers continue drives time and time again against a defense that can’t seem to get off the field, they’ll put pressure on a BYU offense that struggled to move the ball last week. Cal’s defense gave BYU fits all game, and Wisconsin should be able to build their game-plan around what Cal did a week ago. Who knows, maybe head coach Paul Chryst will give his old defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox a ring for some info, but I’m sure whatever defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard draws up will work just as well. Regardless, third down will be crucial for both teams on both sides of the football.