MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin football isn’t just a program. It’s a brand. And a way of life.
It’s not just that the Badgers win — since 2014, they have won at least 10 games per season, including a 13-1 record last year that saw them fall one possession short of reaching the College Football Playoff. Expectations are high again this season in Madison.
But it’s also how the Badgers win, with a relentless, no-frills, physical approach, manhandling and grinding down their opponents. As usual, it all starts up front — they boast what is considered the top offensive line in the nation.
BYU’s players and coaches know exactly what they’re facing when they visit No. 6 Wisconsin Saturday (1:30 p.m., MDT, ABC), especially since the Cougars were crushed at home by the Badgers, 40-6, last September.
Earlier this week, BYU coach Kalani Sitake expressed his admiration for Wisconsin and talked about how he'd like to replicate its style of play in Provo. His assistants are similarly impressed.
“They’re very talented, maybe as talented as anyone in the country,” said BYU assistant head coach Ed Lamb. “But really, the thing that I’m so envious of when I watch them, is about how convicted they are in what they do, both players and coaches.
"They’re going to let you know by formation and situation that they’re going to run the ball. A lot of teams will say, ‘We want to be a run-first team.’ But if you stop them, they start to throw. As a philosophy, Wisconsin’s (approach) is, ‘If you try to stop the run, we’re going to run it more. Game on.’ That type of mentality and toughness flows throughout their team.”
Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor, a Heisman Trophy candidate, leads the nation in rushing, averaging 199 yards per game and has run for five touchdowns.
As a freshman last season, he rushed for 1,977 yards and 13 scores. Taylor is even better this season.
“I certainly believe that he has evolved and is growing,” coach Paul Chryst said of Taylor. “A lot of times, it’s what type of situations that present themselves. I really do believe that he’s grown in a number of areas, whether it be his overall knowledge of what we’re doing and that we’re able to do more with him in the passing game.”
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook completed 18 of 19 passes for 256 yards and four touchdowns against the Cougars last season.
“The most underrated thing about Wisconsin is they’ve got great players. Everybody thinks of them as these big, tough guys. But they have great team speed, super athleticism. They’re long and fast and athletic,” said Cougar quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick. “They’re very disciplined in their scheme. It’s actually pretty simple in terms of you know what they’re going to do most games.
"They just fit every run game perfectly. Their zone coverages are very disciplined. They don’t give up big plays. They’ll give up short stuff and then tackle you and you’re down. There’s very little run after catch.”
“They’ve been one of the top defenses in the country for the last several years,” said quarterback Tanner Mangum. “They’re very well-coached, very disciplined, very strong. They play hard. It’s going to be up to us to execute and do our job and do the best we can every play to put ourselves in the best position possible. It’s an awesome opportunity to go play one of the top teams at their place. It’s going to be a fun time.”
Wisconsin has established a reputation for being a physical team that wears down opponents, a style that predates Chryst, a former Badger quarterback who’s in his fourth year at the helm.
When asked this week about the foundation of the Wisconsin program, he said, “There’s a lot to it. The foundation I’d argue is good players that care. Over the years, there have been a lot of good coaches throughout the staff. I haven’t been a part of it all but we certainly have a belief in what’s best for Wisconsin.
"Those have been fundamental foundation pieces. There’s also been change depending on who the players are or schematics that fit them. It’s not like we’ve stayed status quo. The magic is in the players and trying to play good football.”
The Wisconsin Way is something BYU would like to emulate.
“Just by name alone, when people say, ‘Wisconsin football,’ Oh, those are hard-nosed buggers,” said Cougar offensive lineman Tristen Hoge. “We want to be like them but we also want to create our own mantra. We don’t want to be like, Oh yeah, BYU is like Wisconsin. No, BYU is their own thing.”13 comments on this story
“It’s the way they play special teams. They play physical and a simple brand of special teams,” Lamb said of Wisconsin. “They don’t give you exotic formations and schemes. Defensively as well. They do enough to keep you honest in all three phases. From a philosophical standpoint, it’s physical, sound football. They’re really a blueprint for what we’re trying to become.”
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Cougars on the air
- 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