Dick Harmon: Wisconsin steals BYU's big stage moment

Published: Saturday, Nov. 9 2013 11:55 p.m. MST

James White of the Wisconsin Badgers scores a touchdown against BYU during NCAA football in Madison Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

MADISON, Wis. — BYU climbed on the big stage Saturday and promptly slipped off.

Sure, it was a predicted bump at Camp Randall Stadium, but the 27-17 loss to Wisconsin derailed a five-game BYU win streak just when folks were beginning to take note.

The Cougars tried to man up with a big, physical No. 21 Wisconsin but failed to produce enough big plays to pull off the upset. Down went a chance to be ranked come Monday. Definitely it was a missed opportunity to make some November noise.

“Credit Wisconsin, they were well-coached, very physical and had a great game plan like we knew they would,” said Bronco Mendenhall.

BYU came to Madison with a team that had looked polished and on the rise. But on Saturday the Cougars did not play clean. Most all of that was due to Gary Andersen’s Badger squad, but there were enough self-inflicted shots to the foot by the Cougars to killed momentum.

“I thought it would be a one or two possession game with a score of about 24,” said Mendenhall. “It almost came to that, but we couldn’t make it closer. Credit Wisconsin.”

Mendenhall did not believe a two-week preparation for Wisconsin and Utah, two of BYU’s three losses this year, had anything to do with two losses. “We’d never lost coming off bye weeks until now. It has more to do with the competition — playing good teams.”

Wisconsin threw a few wrinkles at quarterback Taysom Hill and company. That, combined with dropped passes, miscommunication, missed assignments and injuries to receivers Mitch Mathews and Devin Mahina were enough to put BYU’s stout defense in a bind.

BYU’s defense, led by Uani 'Unga’s 15 tackles, a Craig Bills fumble recovery and interception by Kyle Van Noy, did make some mistakes but played well enough considering how long it was on the field.

The Cougars had given up just four rushing touchdowns on the season but allowed Badger James White two rushing touchdowns in three hours and 10 minutes of playing time. Credit Wisconsin’s offensive line, a crew that latched on to BYU defenders like crabs on chicken while White found space.

White’s done that against everybody.

BYU’s offense, however, struggled. Wisconsin outgained BYU 425 to 370 and the Cougars gained just 207 passing with 163 on the ground — a lot of that in the fourth quarter when Andersen called off the pressure on Hill.

On fire since Middle Tennessee State, Wisconsin’s size, speed and great scheme led to pressure on Hill early. The Cougars went three-and-out in their first two possessions with nothing to show but a Hill interception.

This is typical of many teams on a road trip against a big-time team. Do it and it costs.

“They did a great job defending the spill,” Hill said of the read option. “And they did something we hadn’t seen them do on film, and it caught us in the first half.” Wisconsin moved an outside linebacker or nickel back from inside to outside of BYU’s slot receiver or tight end. After halftime, the Cougars made adjustments.

The Badgers played man-on-man defense on every Cougar, and Hill and company could not make enough plays to capitalize on it outside of Cody Hoffman’s pair of touchdown grabs.

Ross Apo dropped a pair of passes and the Cougar offensive line got called with three false starts. On several occasions, Hill said there was miscommunication from the sideline and players missing assignments. On a fourth-quarter drive when the Cougars tried to convert a fourth-and-3 coming out of a timeout, they were flagged for having 12 men on the field.

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