Dick Harmon: Wisconsin provides huge opportunity for Cougars
Andy Manis, AP
MADISON — Nobody outside the Big Ten has come into Camp Randall Stadium and beat Wisconsin in 28 tries and a decade.
BYU will make that attempt today when the Cougars and the No. 21 ranked Badgers, a couple of hot 6-2 teams, meet in what is a crucial and important “poll” climbing event for the winner.
The game features two of the only FBS schools that boast two players that rush for more than 100 yards. In the case of the Cougars, its quarterback Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams; for Wisconsin, Melvin Gordon and James White.
Conversely, both the Badger and Cougar defenses are pretty good at stopping runners and keeping them out of the end zone.
It should be a classic defensive battle.
The Badgers have a long record of not losing to non-league foes here. They schedule wins.
Is BYU a scheduled win?
If you scan Wisconsin’s non-league visitors the past two decades, they’ve included Akron, Central Florida, UNLV, Bowling Green, Temple, Western Illinois, San Diego State, Buffalo, Washington State, The Citadel, Northern Illinois, Marshall, Cal-Poly, Fresno State, Wolford, San Jose State, ASU, Utah State, Northern Iowa, UTEP, Oregon State and South Dakota.
Wisconsin scheduled BYU this time at an inconvenient November date because its game with Purdue got moved to earlier in the season. Protecting its bye weeks, the Badgers had an opening in November and BYU, as an independent, is always seeking November games, which are tough to get when many are locked into conference schedules.
Plus, athletic director Barry Alverez said the Big Ten is trying to upgrade non-conference schedules to help BCS rankings.
“I don’t know if people realize how good of a team BYU is coming here Saturday,” Alverez told Badger fans.
“I talked to Gary the other day about BYU’s quarterback, Taysom Hill, and he said the offense is all about him and he can beat you in a lot of different ways. He ran for a million against Texas.”
This is why BYU, with a five-game win streak, has some red-clad Badger fans a little edgy. But this is Big Ten territory. That should be enough. Right?
Few, if any, national experts expect the 7.5-point underdog Cougars to come into Camp Randall and win.
Wisconsin ranks first in the nation in limiting red zone scoring. And this will be a huge challenge for the Cougars, who tend to get in scoring position, then falter with motion penalties and illegal procedure infractions, products of a tiring offensive line that just got through going fast and hard down the field.
Combine that with a huge, loud, smart crowd who knows when to get loud, this could be an ugly picture for BYU’s offense that’s just finding its stride.
The way BYU polishes up this issue looms large.
Also, the Cougars must move the ball on first and second downs. Wisconsin will eat up Hill and Company if the Cougars find themselves in third and 10 or third and 12 situations, or with an illegal motion penalty on first down resulting in a first and 15, something that’s been common.
Also, the Cougars must avoid three and outs, especially in the first quarter.
BYU’s two best weapons against Wisconsin’s defense will be (1) to attack the back end of the Badger secondary and challenge Wisconsin’s safeties, and (2) get Hill to make “chaos” plays when pressured and pushed out of the pocket either with his arms or legs. Running full bore at this beefy D-line with Williams will be practically impossible.
Robert Anae needs to make Wisconsin respect the run, load the box and then attack the Badgers through the air.
Gary Andersen brought with him his USU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. He was brilliant in Logan and in Madison at stopping teams when he’s got the back end zone stripe to prop up his defense as a 12th defender. Aranda shifts to a horizontal instead of a vertical protection mindset and it works because of sound assignment and execution. Statistically, Wisconsin yields a meager 38.1 percent touchdowns to opponents who get in the red zone.
In short, if the Cougars want to walk away with a huge upset here, they’ll need to get chunk yardage against an outstanding defense — get an early lead and make the Badgers have to pass instead of eat up the clock with their powerful run game.
Can it be done? It’s up to BYU’s offensive line.
This week’s picks:
Missouri 27, Arkansas 17: The Tigers have taken up the SEC role as a real force.
Texas 32, West Virginia 21: The Longhorns have figured things out since Provo.
Washington 38, Colorado 10: Steve Sarkisian’s good and USC is noticing the kid from Torrance.
USC 28, Cal 10: The Trojans will easily take care of this Pac 12 stepping stool.
UCLA 34, Arizona 24: Jim Mora, there’s a new sheriff visiting Tucson.
Notre Dame 21, Pitt 10: Fighting Irish sniffing a climb in BCS rankings.
USU 28, UNLV 21: Aggies cash in.
Arizona State 38, Utah 28: Who has more firepower? Visitors.
Wisconsin 24, BYU 21: If the Cougars score 24, they will win, but a lack of a smash-nose run game and penalties here will cost them.
Last week 7-0; Overall 63-20 (75.9)
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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