Wisconsin put together its most complete performance of the season during a 40-6 victory against BYU on Saturday.
The Badgers outgained the Cougars 491-192 and haven’t allowed a touchdown in the past six quarters.
Here are five things we learned from Wisconsin’s convincing win:
1. Alex Hornibrook has the potential to be a special quarterback
Quarterback is the easiest position to critique given that he has the ball on every play, and Alex Hornibrook has received his share of criticism. But if his performance Saturday isn’t enough to convince people of his talent, who knows what is? Hornibrook set the school record for single-game completion percentage by going 18 of 19 for 256 yards with 4 touchdowns and no interceptions. The previous record belonged to Darrell Bevell, who completed 17 of 18 against Northwestern in 1993.
Hornibrook became the first Badgers quarterback to throw 4 touchdowns since Russell Wilson against Minnesota on Nov. 12, 2011. And Hornibrook’s 277.4 pass efficiency rating was the second-highest mark in school history, behind John Stocco’s 296.7 against Indiana on Sept. 30, 2006.
This season, Hornibrook has completed 49 of 70 passes (70 percent), has 8 touchdowns to 1 interception and is averaging 233.7 passing yards per game. He has been exceptional on third down, completing 17 of 22 for 222 yards with 4 touchdowns and no interceptions. And he is proving that Wisconsin won’t be a one-dimensional offense this season.
2. Jonathan Taylor is taking over as Wisconsin’s top running back
Jonathan Taylor put together another strong game, carrying 18 times for 128 yards with 1 touchdown. He became the first Badgers freshman to gain at least 100 yards in consecutive games since Corey Clement in 2013. And the more coaches give him the ball, the harder it is to take him off the field.
Bradrick Shaw, who opened the season as the starter, returned from a right leg injury. He carried 4 times for 19 yards. Chris James tallied 5 carries for 19 yards. Shaw will continue to recover with the bye week upcoming. But even when Shaw is fully healthy, it remains to be seen whether he’ll earn back his starting spot. This has less to do with Shaw than it does with Taylor, who is averaging 146 yards rushing and has 5 touchdowns. He also is averaging 8.3 yards per carry.
A combination of Taylor and Shaw will be difficult for opposing defenses to handle. But the order of who earns carries — and how many — moving forward could have changed in the past few weeks.
3. Wisconsin’s defense is every bit as good as last season
The Badgers figured to have one of the top defenses in the country given their returning personnel, and they have lived up to that billing through three games. Wisconsin is allowing 10 points per game and has not given up a point in the second half this season. The Badgers held BYU to 192 total yards, the fewest by a Wisconsin opponent since Rutgers tallied 165 in 2015.
What makes the Wisconsin defense so good is that there is no weak link at any level. Defensive ends Alec James and Conor Sheehy were excellent Saturday, combining for 10 tackles. The outside linebacker trio of Leon Jacobs, Garret Dooley and Andrew Van Ginkel have combined for 36 tackles, including 9.5 tackles for loss. They have managed to make up for the loss of Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt. That production bolsters an already-strong inside linebacker corps, led by T.J. Edwards, who has 5 career interceptions.
Wisconsin’s secondary also has been solid, as opponents are averaging 157.3 passing yards per game. On Saturday, nickel cornerback Dontye Carriere-Williams recorded a team-high 8 tackles with his first career interception.
4. Wisconsin continues to demonstrate impressive offensive balance
Wisconsin has totaled at least 200 yards rushing and receiving in each of the first three games. Last season, the Badgers had two games with 200 yards passing and rushing. And the last time Wisconsin had three consecutive games with those numbers came in the first three games of the 2013 season.
It won’t be easy to continue that streak when Big Ten play begins, but the offensive balance bodes well for the future because it prevents opposing teams from planning to stop one aspect. Through three games, Wisconsin has 826 rushing yards and 707 passing yards.
5. The Badgers achieved everything they wanted in nonconference play
It wasn’t always pretty, but Wisconsin will enter the Big Ten portion of its season with a 3-0 record. And the Badgers learned plenty about themselves in the process. They were tested after a poor start and too many penalties in the season opener against Utah State and managed to rally. They responded from inconsistent offensive line play and have begun mauling opponents to open holes in the run game.
Wisconsin has outscored opponents 130-30 this season. All of Wisconsin’s goals remain in front of this team, which was the most important thing to accomplish in the first three games. With a bye week to rest, the Badgers could be better than ever by the time Northwestern arrives for the start of conference play on Sept. 30.