PROVO — For the BYU defense, stopping the run is priority one.
In last Saturday’s loss to California, the Cougars did a good job against running back Patrick Laird, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards a year ago. Laird was limited to 32 yards on 10 carries.
However, quarterbacks Brandon McIlwain (16 carries, 74 yards) and Chase Garbers (five carries, 45 yards) gashed the BYU defense. And they combined to complete 23 of 35 passes for 214 yards.
“Cal had a great game plan. They were patient with the run,” said coach Kalani Sitake. “They kept us on our heels with the pass game. They did a lot of quick throws and timing throws … If we’re going to be more disruptive on defense, it’s got to come from the D-line.”
In a season-opening victory at Arizona, the Cougars held quarterback Khalil Tate to 14 yards on eight carries.
On Saturday (1:30 p.m., MDT, ABC) at Camp Randall Stadium, the Cougars will face another difficult challenge when they take on the nation’s top rusher, Heisman Trophy candidate Jonathan Taylor, a 5-foot-11, 221-pound sophomore who ran for 285 yards and three touchdowns last week against New Mexico.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done right now,” said defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki. “We didn’t do as good of a job stopping the run (against Cal). We gave up too many rushing yards. We’ve got to do a better job stopping the run. The focus is on matching the physical play of Wisconsin.”
“They’re a tough team. They wear teams out. They’re physical,” said Cougar safety Austin Lee. “They know what they’re going to do and they’re going to come right at you. They’re physical. You’ve got to stay in it for all four quarters.”
Of course, the Badgers can pass the ball, too.
“You’ve got to be disciplined. They can lure you to sleep with the run, run, run because they have amazing backs,” Lee said. “But you also have to respect the throw. They’ve got a great quarterback and they’ve got receiving threats. You can fall asleep because they’re so dynamic and so physical.”
“(Taylor) is a good back and they’re scheme is really good. But they’ve got nine O-linemen returning from what they had before, guys who either started or have had significant playing time,” Tuiaki said. “Their O-line doesn’t get as much credit. Their backs are really good. No doubt about that. But the O-line is really, really good as well. The tight ends are good, too. Their quarterback is good, too. Their receivers are good, too.”
That pretty much covers it, right?
Linebackers coach Ed Lamb said the ‘backers will have a big responsibility in the defensive game plan.
“When our linebackers are on the line of scrimmage, they’re taking on tight ends. We need to win those battles with the tight end,” Lamb said. “At the second level, it’s more about tackling well in open space. They have such a good tailback. He’s a good tackle-breaker and he keeps his feet driving through contact. We’ve got to do a good job tackling.”
Linebacker Sione Takitaki knows BYU's defense have a big test when it takes on Wisconsin.
“We’ve got to stop the run. We’ve got to play big up front with our front seven and we have to make plays and play our best game,” he said. “Shedding blocks is going to be important this week. Our hands have to be really quick. They’ll have a blocker for everybody. Somebody has to make a play so someone has to get off a blocker. That’s going to be pretty important. I know we’re going to work a lot on that this week.”
BYU (1-1) at No. 6 Wisconsin (2-0)
- Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MDT Camp Randall Stadium
- TV: ABC
- Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM