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Taysom Hill and the Cougars look to prove they can play with the big boys.
Bronco Mendenhall and the BYU Cougars travel to Madison to take on Gary Andersen and the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium on ESPN at 3:30 pm ET. Gary Andersen has seen BYU before. Many times before, actually. When he was at Utah State, Andersen coached against the Cougars in all four of his seasons. He compiled a 1-3 record; however, all of his losses were at Provo where BYU enjoys a great home field advantage. This time, he gets the Cougars to travel across the country to take on his ranked Badgers team in the hostile environment of Camp Randall. BYU is on a five-game winning streak, yet outside of Texas, they have yet to register a truly impressive win. The Badgers also have a nice win streak going, one of three games that started after their seven-point loss at Ohio State. This is the second all-time meeting between the two teams as the Cougars beat the Badgers in 1980 by a score of 28-3 at Camp Randall.
Three Things to Watch
Taysom Hill's arm
Hill is renowned for his rushing abilities. Currently, he is the second-leading rusher among quarterbacks with 841 yards on the ground, which includes an impressive 5.9 yards per carry and eight touchdowns. As defenses have started to game plan against Hill running wild, the young quarterback has found a new way to keep defensive coordinators up late at night. Over BYU's five-game winning streak, Hill has completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 1,455 yards and 11 touchdowns. Hill is ranked No. 6 in college football in total offense and he will need to continue his polished passing as Wisconsin boasts the No. 5 rushing defense in the nation.
Melvin Gordon's legs
Is there as reliable a running back in college football as Wisconsin's Gordon? Gordon has rushed for over 140 yards in six games this season, including a season-high 192 yards against Arizona State. The sophomore tailback currently ranks as the nation's seventh ranked rusher, even with noticeably less carries than his peers. Among rushers with over 900 yards this year, Gordon is the only one with less than 125 carries. His staggering 8.7 rushing yards per carry ties him with Lache Seastrunk for No. 1 nationally. Gordon has yet to rush for fewer than 140 yards at home, but it's worth noting that he failed to crack the 80-yard mark against Iowa and Ohio State. The Cougars defense shouldn't be taken lightly as they allow 145.3 rushing yards per game, which puts them at No. 42 in the country.
This will likely decide the game. BYU wants to turn this game into a fast-paced shootout, while Wisconsin wants to make it a ground-and-pound slugfest. Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen, who faced BYU several times as the head coach at Utah State, told reporters this week, "We can't get into a momentum game of ups and downs. We have to be steady-Eddie just like we were last week." Indeed, quarterback Joel Stave simply doesn't possess the abilities to be anything more than the game manager that he has been this year, especially with top weapon Jared Abbrederis questionable for the game after he suffered a rib injury midway through the second quarter of last Saturday’s win over Iowa. Wisconsin will look to slow things down with Gordon and James White, while the Cougars will look to speed things up with the dual-threat Hill and explosive RB Jamaal Williams and WR Cody Hoffman. Wisconsin's defense will look to shut down BYU on third-downs and in the red zone, which happen to be two of the Badgers' defense biggest strengths. Wisconsin has only allowed eight touchdowns in 21 red zone attempts, while BYU has scored 19 touchdowns on 39 red zone attempts. BYU has the nation's 100th ranked third-down offense, converting only 34 percent of the time. The doesn't line up well against a Wisconsin defense that is fourth in the NCAA in third-down defense, allowing a first down only 29 percent of the time.
Key Player: Cody Hoffman, WR, BYU
As mentioned, Taysom Hill will have to beat Wisconsin with his arm. He will look toward his favorite target WR Cody Hoffman, who leads the Cougars with 29 receptions and is averaging an explosive 18.1 yards per reception. The 6'4" Hoffman is a huge goal-line threat that can help BYU overcome its poor redzone play. He has battled injuries this year, so his numbers aren't up to his usual standard. He caught 100 balls last year for 1,248 yards and 11 touchdowns. Wisconsin doesn't have anyone on the back end that can match his raw athleticism and talent.
Gary Andersen knows this BYU program too well for them to pull any surprises on him. I think the Wisconsin defense will be ready for everything it sees, and the Badgers will plow threw the Cougars up front, controlling the line on each side of the ball.
Prediction: Wisconsin 24, BYU 15