Preview: (10) Wisconsin at BYU

wisconsin-football-purdue
wisconsin-football-purdue

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 10 Wisconsin Badgers (2-0) vs the BYU Cougars (1-2)

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The time: 2:30 p.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Lavell Edwards Stadium, Provo, Utah

The TV coverage: ABC with Mike Patrick and Tommy Tuberville in the booth, and Paul Carcaterra on the sideline.

The last time: Wisconsin got 193 total yards and three touchdowns from running back James White in a 27-17 win at Camp Randall Stadium in 2013.

The series: 1-1

The line: Wisconsin -16

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

RB Bradrick Shaw (leg)
RG Beau Benzschawel (leg)
K P.J. Rosowski (leg)

OUT

Game:

RB Taiwan Deal (leg)
OL Jon Dietzen (leg)
DE Chikwe Obasih (knee)
WR George Rushing (leg)
S Patrick Johnson (arm)
FB Jake Whalen (head)

Season:

LB Jack Cichy (knee)
LB Zack Baun (foot)
RB Sam Brodner (knee)
LB Mason Stokke (leg)

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) The injury bug

Wisconsin has yet to finish its non-conference season and the Badgers are already in desperate need of the bye they’ll get after this week. But getting to that bye week unscathed won’t be a an easy task with what they’ll be missing on Saturday. Already without a pair of starters on defense in defensive end Chikwe Obasih and linebacker Jack Cichy, the Badgers will not have starting left guard Jon Dietzen and potentially starting right guard Beau Benzschawel. Add in guys that were expected to contribute this year such as running back Taiwan Deal, wide receiver George Rushing, outside linebacker Zack Baun and safety Patrick Johnson, and you see the challenge coach Paul Chryst and his staff are facing.

2) On the road

Expect more than a dozen players to make their road debuts on Saturday for Wisconsin, including remarkable freshman running back Jonathan Taylor. How will they handle all the little extra things that come with a road game like this one, including the plane ride, an unfamiliar bed and surroundings to go along with a tough stadium environment? Most of them have risen to the occasion, especially Taylor, but this a new venue and we won’t know how they’ll react until they are put in the situation.

3) Playing at a high elevation

Part of the tough environment Wisconsin will deal with at Lavell Edwards Stadium is the actual environment. Provo, Utah sits 4,551-feet above sea level — or about 3,800-feet higher than Madison. Chryst admitted they were aware of what was awaiting them in Utah with the altitude and what it means in terms of breathing, but they could only do so much to prepare. The Badgers will likely need to count on their depth to help them through it, which could be tricky with their injury concerns.

4) A first start

Wisconsin isn’t the only team that is dinged up. BYU is, too. And at the most important position — quarterback. Though the BYU coaches weren’t willing to say who would start, all indications are that the ankle injury suffered by senior Tanner Mangum will keep him from playing, leaving sophomore Beau Hoge to get his first start and his first action of any kind since 2015. More of a dual threat than Mangum, Hoge takes over an offense that’s averaging 11 points per game and has struggled to produce any consistent success on that side of the ball.

The Badgers defense was nasty in the second half against Florida Atlantic, allowing just 50 yards and two first downs. They could be in line for a similar outing on Saturday.

5) Passing game improvement

The passing game has been a little hit or miss in the first two weeks for Wisconsin. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook is averaging more than 200 yards per game, has four touchdowns and just one interceptions, but there have been too many moments where things didn’t look quite right. And the issues were not centered on one person even if many want to point the finger at Hornibrook. Sure he missed some throws, but his numbers would look quite different if not for the myriad of dropped passes.

As Chryst said this week, it’s important for the quarterback to help the receivers, but it’s a two-way street, and outside of a couple outstanding catches by wide receiver Quintez Cephus, the help hasn’t been there enough. That needs to change for them to reach their potential through the air.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

Jonathan Taylor is averaging 155 yards per game, the highest total by any true freshman in college football. The second-best is Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins with 126.5 yards per game, according to UWBadgers.com.

BYU has two players — running backs Ula Tolutau and Austin Kafentzis — that signed letters of intent to play for Wisconsin. Tolutau took his 2-year Mormon mission, and when he returned he decided, with Gary Andersen no longer coaching the Badgers, that he’d play elsewhere. Kafentzis, who committed to Andersen, came to Wisconsin even after the coach left for Oregon State, took part in spring practice in 2015 but transferred soon after.

Wisconsin is 0-2 in true road non-conference games since 2011, with one loss coming in 2012 at Oregon State and the second one in controversial fashion a year later at Arizona State.

This is the first time Wisconsin is playing a game in the state of Utah, leaving just 16 states where the Badgers have not played a game in program history.

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 27, BYU 13 (2-0 on the season, 1-1 against the spread)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 38, BYU 10 (2-0 on the season, 1-1 against the spread)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 31 , BYU 7 (2-0 on the season, 1-1 against the spread)

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