Wisconsin’s non-conference schedule had been repeatedly criticized as lenient — no team as good as the Badgers should be facing such undeniably mediocre opponents, they’d say.
Saturday in Madison proved that the assumption of a program’s worth isn’t a perfect science. Brigham Young University arrived at Camp Randall having lost their previous game against the University of California, an unranked opponent. But the past doesn’t dictate the future, and at the conclusion of the first quarter, not only was the score tied, but BYU had out-gained Wisconsin in total and rush yards. They racked up five first downs to Wisconsin’s three and blocked tremendously, paving the way to their 85 first quarter rush yards.
Each squad compiled productive and pretty touchdown drives, Wisconsin adhering to their long-standing identity of run-first while BYU profited off a 44-yard Squally Canada (you can google it) run.
Wisconsin ran the ball seven of their eight plays during the drive — for those uninitiated, Wisconsin loves to run the football. Taiwan Deal scored his first touchdown since 2015 to finish off the drive, but BYU wasn’t planning on cowering the way Western Kentucky and New Mexico had the past two weeks.
On the ensuing BYU drive, Canada broke loose, willing the Cougars into Badger territory. From there, a methodical first down conversion set up a string of hefty chunks credited to the BYU rush attack, culminating in a three-yard score. Now a tie game, past scripts would suggest it was time for Wisconsin to flip the switch, pull away, put the game to bed, whichever aphorism suits you best.
BYU, unbeknownst to Wisconsin, has never heard of a script. Their next drive was just about the most cinematic slap in the face imaginable. Not only did their drive end in a score, giving them their first lead of the game and marking the latest point in a game Wisconsin had trailed this season, but how they scored was gut-wrenching.
On an unassuming toss to an in-motion player, BYU wide receiver Aleva Hifo didn’t turn upfield as was expected. Rather, Hifo launched the ball downfield to a waiting BYU tight end. Tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau was the only man downfield and walked into the end zone with almost insulting ease.
“Great play design and execution by [BYU],” Head Coach Paul Chryst said.
Here’s the problem. BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum had, on average, a calendar year to get rid of the football, and once he decided to cough it up, coverage was spacious at the least. On the ground, BYU thrived to the outside. Their lead blockers were either impeccable or the Wisconsin defense was suffering from severe heat exhaustion because BYU looked like they were evading blocking dummies instead of athletes.
Perhaps exemplifying a glimmer of hope, BYU would have a sizable pass completion called back which would have put them on the Wisconsin three-yard line. They’d miss a 52-yard field goal attempt, and Wisconsin had a little more than five minutes to reclaim some momentum.
And reclaim it they did. Nineteen yards stood between Wisconsin and a first down, and on a last-second dump-off to wide receiver Danny Davis, the outlook looked bleak. But eighteen yards, a few highlight-worthy jukes and a fourth-down conversion later, the drive was alive and well. Wisconsin would enter the locker room at halftime tied 14–14 after a two-yard Alec Ingold touchdown, but the margin of difference in talent between Wisconsin’s first two opponents and Saturday warranted a biting halftime speech.
An early BYU three-and-out felt like the beginning of the all-too-familiar storyline in which Wisconsin finally takes control. Equally familiar, however, is Alex Hornibrook’s tendency to turn the ball over. An untimely interception led to a lead-stretching BYU touchdown — shaving another layer off the already thin ice Wisconsin stood upon.
Wisconsin faced two fourth down conversion attempts their next drive. One was successful. The other was not and BYU took control again in the latter half of the third quarter with what began to look like a formidable seven-point lead.
“Offensively, I don’t think we were very consistent in running the football and we weren’t great on third down,” Chryst said.
Things got so bad that following the third quarter, BYU’s bench joined the weekly festivities.
BYU bench getting in on jump around. Cocky move. pic.twitter.com/Mc6ACbuOzh
— Badger Herald Sports (@BHeraldSports) September 15, 2018
But perhaps this is how we should expect Wisconsin football to work. Maybe we should just calmly wait until the good team eventually shows up. Maybe, no matter how bad things look, our unshakeable faith is enough to get through the game.
Wisconsin would equalize on running back Taiwan Deal’s second touchdown of the afternoon, and the scales tipped back in Wisconsin’s favor. A BYU field goal would reintroduce their lead, and with just under ten minutes remaining, that faith deserved results.
Wisconsin would set up the opportunity well, forcing BYU to punt with just over four minutes remaining. The script was there, the last page was in the Wisconsin offense’s hands.
Ninety-two yards stood between a Wisconsin win or loss, and the drive began with a methodical chipping away at yardage. Regardless of length, Wisconsin was on the move. From here, ball security and minimal risk were Wisconsin’s best friends.
After a Hornibrook mad dash that left Camp Randall questioning who on Earth they were playing witness to, the ever-reliable Rafael Gaglianone lined up for a try at the game-tying field goal.
“Everyone in here knows that it doesn’t come down to that one play … the whole team needs to own this one,” Chryst said.
24-21 BYU is your final from Madison.