PROVO — Not long after BYU got walloped 40-6 at home by Wisconsin last September, Cougar coach Kalani Sitake praised the visitors and raved about how much he wants his program to emulate the physical, efficient Badgers.
“They’re a great team. You see why they’re highly ranked. I thought we were overwhelmed as a group,” Sitake said. “That’s the type of team we aspire to be. It was a good clinic for us to see what we want to be and what it takes.”
In the wake of a 2017 season that saw his team produce only four wins and his offense implode, Sitake retooled his offensive coaching staff by hiring offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, a longtime offensive line coach.
Things got off to an encouraging start under Grimes in a 28-23 win at Arizona, where BYU controlled the offensive and defensive lines of scrimmage.
Last week in a 21-18 loss to Cal, the Cougars were outplayed and overmatched in the trenches.
On Saturday (1:30 p.m., MDT, ABC), BYU gets another crack at No. 6 Wisconsin — this time at Camp Randall Stadium.
This game could be a measuring stick of sorts for his team, Sitake said. Problem is, the Badgers, who finished with a 13-1 record in 2017, are even better than they were last year.
“They’re stronger. They actually have guys that started against us that are backups now. They have more experience on the line of scrimmage. They’re big and they’re physical. So this will be a great test for us," Sitake said Monday afternoon. "I admire a lot what they do at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
"We’ll see how much our guys have developed in a year and how much they can hang in there at the line of scrimmage. I’m really looking forward to the test. There’s a lot of guys on this team that really want to get to this game and see what happens.”
A year ago, Wisconsin held BYU to two field goals. In four seasons under coach Paul Chryst, the Badgers have prevented opponents from scoring an offensive touchdown in 13 of 43 games (30 percent).
Sitake emphasized again Monday how much he loves Wisconsin’s style of play, something he would like his program to emulate.
“Coach Chryst has done a great job with that team,” Sitake said, adding that the Badgers have been playing this way since former coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez arrived in Madison almost three decades ago. “They’re always going to be strong up front. They represent the state of Wisconsin really well, you know what I mean? They’re just tough guys and I love that. I admire it, yeah, but that’s where we’re trying to get to — own the line of scrimmage.
"That’s why we have an O-line coach as our (offensive coordinator) and a D-line coach as our (defensive coordinator). That’s something we can recruit here and hang our hat on. We admire it but the best way to admire it is to challenge them and play them.”
Sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor, who is the nation's leading rusher, averaging 199.0 yards per game, exploded for a career-high 253 yards and three touchdowns while wide receiver A.J. Taylor caught five passes for a career-high 134 yards and a TD in a 45-14 thumping of New Mexico last Saturday.
Last year in Provo, Jonathan Taylor gained 128 yards on 18 carries and scored a touchdown.
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook completed 8 of 11 passes for 148 yards against the Lobos. Last year, he picked the Cougars apart, completing 18 of 19 passes for 256 yards and four touchdowns.
The Badgers, who were ranked No. 10 a year ago, also boast what is regarded as the best offensive line in the country.
“They’ve got a really good offensive line, they always have good running backs,” said BYU linebacker Zayne Anderson. “They’ve got a really good one this year. That’s something we really need to do this week — stop the run.”
Anderson was sidelined for last year’s contest against Wisconsin due to injury.
“That game was frustrating. I was hurt and that was the one game that I missed. It was frustrating watching on the sideline," he said. "They dominated us last year and we have a bitter taste in our mouth this year. Coming off this loss (against Cal), we’re really excited and motivated to get this one.”
A year ago, quarterback Tanner Mangum was hurt and did not play against the Badgers. It marked the first career start for Beau Hoge. BYU finished with 81 yards rushing and 111 yards passing.
Fullback Brayden El-Bakri is looking forward to this rematch with Wisconsin.
“I like challenges. I like every game, whoever it is,” he said. “But there’s always an excitement when everybody believes that they’re going to be more physical than you and then you come in with a chip on your shoulder.”
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Cougars on the air
at No. 6 Wisconsin (2-0)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MDT Camp Randall Stadium
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM