Badgers defense looks to feast on struggling BYU offense
PROVO, Utah — Wisconsin hasn’t been tested so far this season, and this week could be more of the same when the No. 10 Badgers face a BYU team with a meager offense.
The Cougars rank 125th in total offense and may be without starting quarterback Tanner Mangum.
BYU coaches declined to answer questions about Mangum’s health or if he practiced. Neither he nor backup Beau Hoge was available to the media this week.
“I can’t say anything right now,” BYU offensive coordinator Ty Detmer said. “We’ll just kind of see what happens come Saturday.”
The Badgers rank No. 19 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 24 points so far. They are 19-3 under coach Paul Chryst when allowing 20 points or less. BYU has allowed 46 points and scored just 13 combined points in two games, including a shutout by No. 12 LSU. The Cougars were held to -5 rushing yards against the Tigers and failed to cross midfield. They also lost 19-13 to Utah.
Detmer said there wouldn’t be a change in the offensive scheme under a different quarterback, but they always tailor things to the strengths of players on the field. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Hoge is considered more mobile than Mangum, who’s a traditional pocket passer.
“They run a real similar offense to what we run here,” Wisconsin defensive end Alec James said. “Going against our offense in camp has helped us. We’ll be ready for them. They do a great job with what they run and we’ll just have to be ready for them.”
Other things to watch when BYU hosts Wisconsin:
ON THE RUN: Freshman running back Jonathan Taylor has had quite the start to his college career, including 223 yards and three scores on 26 carries last week against Florida Atlantic. He boasts the kind of power, speed and big-play potential that the Badgers haven’t had in the backfield in a few seasons. Now he’ll be playing in his first college road game. It’s also unclear whether Wisconsin will have sophomore Bradrick Shaw back after he missed the Florida Atlantic game with a right leg injury. Regardless, Wisconsin already has good depth in the backfield with Taylor and junior Chris James, who rushed for 101 yards on 16 carries last week.
ON GUARDS: The effectiveness of the run game though might be affected by the health of the offensive line. LG Jon Dietzen and RG Beau Benzschawel were each listed as questionable this week with right leg injuries. Micah Kapoi, a junior who has started 13 games in his career, would probably slide in at left guard if Dietzen can’t go. But Chryst would decide between a pair of sophomores at right guard if Benzschawel sits out. Either Jason Erdmann or David Moorman would make their first career start.
JACOBS’ RISE: Leon Jacobs is off to a fast start in his return to outside linebacker. The athletic senior was shuffled to other positions earlier in his career before returning to the edge to start opposite Garrett Dooley. Jacobs leads the Big Ten with four tackles for losses.
HOLDING DOWN THE FORT: The BYU defense has been the bright spot for the Cougars. The unit ranks No. 39 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 17.3 points per game. They allowed Utah in the end zone just once in seven red zone trips last week. Linebacker Fred Warner is tied for No. 8 in the country with 26 tackles and defensive end Sione Takitaki has four tackles for loss, two sacks and two quarterback hurries.
“You hate to praise one and then just crap on the other one, but let’s be honest (the defense) has been doing really good,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said.
RB ROTATION: BYU went into the season with a running-back-by-committee approach after losing all-time leading rusher Jamaal Williams to the Green Bay Packers. Junior Squally Canada started the first two games, but had just one carry against Utah last week. Junior Kavika Fonua started and had a team-high eight carries last week, but managed just 22 yards. There’s optimism that 6-1, 255-pound Ula Tolutau is healthy. He rushed five times for 25 yards and a touchdown against the Utes.