Before Wisconsin’s players left town for an important nonconference game against BYU, they spoke about all the challenges that might await them in Provo, Utah. A wild road atmosphere, a game played at higher altitude and an opponent capable of punishing the Badgers for self-inflicted mistakes.
Turns out, it really wasn’t all that difficult. Wisconsin simply needed to play the brand of football it established years ago. The Badgers did so better than any game this season.
No. 10 Wisconsin dispatched BYU 40-6 on Saturday afternoon at LaVell Edwards Stadium, showcasing a balanced offense and a stout defense. In the process, the Badgers put the rest of the Big Ten West on notice as conference play looms. The road to the division championship, unequivocally, goes through Madison. And the Badgers appear to possess all the pieces necessary to extend that path to the College Football Playoff.
At the very least, if Wisconsin can play the way it did Saturday, the Badgers will be exceptionally hard to beat.
You want a strong rushing attack? Wisconsin has three tailbacks capable of breaking out for a huge game any given week. Freshman Jonathan Taylor continued his turn in the spotlight Saturday, carrying 18 times for 128 yards with 1 touchdown Saturday. He was so good that the Badgers hardly needed Chris James and Bradrick Shaw, who missed the Florida Atlantic game last week with a right leg injury. When Shaw is healthy, Wisconsin will have one of the most formidable 1-2 tailback combinations in the country.
How about a consistent passing attack? Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook put together his finest performance thus far and put any complaints about arm strength or missed throws to rest — at least for another week. Hornibrook was darn near perfect in the game. In fact, he set the Badgers’ all-time single-game record for completion percentage at 94.7 percent. He finished 18 of 19 and established new career highs for passing yards (256) and touchdowns (4). The previous mark belonged to Darrell Bevell, who completed 17 of 18 passes against Northwestern in 1993. Hornibrook is far more than a so-called “game manager,” who has a knack for finding his receivers in the right spots.
And what of the wide receiver group? Wisconsin’s top receivers this season possess the type of game-changing playmaking ability that this program has desperately needed for years. Freshman receiver Danny Davis has the speed and athleticism to stretch the field, as evidenced by his huge 50-yard first-half catch off play-action.
Sophomore Quintez Cephus has quickly turned into perhaps the Badgers’ best wide receiver. He caught both of Hornibrook’s first-half touchdown passes with a grace and ease rarely seen. Sophomore A.J. Taylor added an 18-yard third-quarter touchdown catch and has progressed incredibly fast after primarily playing running back in high school. The trio of Davis, Cephus and Taylor combined for 10 catches for 155 yards and 3 touchdowns.
That doesn’t even include senior receiver Jazz Peavy, who entered the season as Wisconsin’s No. 1 wideout, and tight end Troy Fumagalli. Fumagalli provides a safety valve few teams in the nation have the luxury of utilizing, and he added a 19-yard touchdown catch Saturday.
Defensively, the Badgers have been stout this season at every level. Despite missing fifth-year defensive end Chikwe Obasih, who is out with a left knee injury, the D-line has thrived. Defensive ends Alec James and Conor Sheehy combined for 10 tackles Saturday.
Outside linebackers Leon Jacobs, Andrew Van Ginkel and Garret Dooley have been a collective force off the edge and finished with 12 total tackles. Wisconsin is so loaded that inside linebacker T.J. Edwards, the team’s leading tackler the past two seasons, didn’t have to do much Saturday. He recorded 1 tackle but still came up with a first-quarter interception that led to the Badgers’ first field goal.
The secondary was exceptional one week after surrendering a 63-yard touchdown pass to Florida Atlantic because of a communication breakdown. Redshirt freshman Dontye Carriere-Williams, the team’s nickel cornerback, played the best game of young career. He tallied 8 tackles and an interception.
Wisconsin (3-0) took advantage of BYU quarterback Beau Hoge making his first college start in place of an injured Tanner Mangum. Hoge finished 11 of 20 for 111 yards with 0 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. BYU (1-3) averaged only 3.1 yards per rushing attempt. The Badgers haven’t allowed a touchdown in 9 of 12 quarters played and have proven why the unit is among the best in the country.
Wisconsin’s players will now enter their bye week before the start of conference play feeling as good about themselves as they have all season. That’s bad news for the rest of the Big Ten West, which continues to play catch-up on a team that only gets better.