If Wisconsin’s road trip to BYU was their first major test of the season, then the No. 10 Badgers passed it with flying colors as the rolled to a 40-6 win over the Cougars in Provo, Utah.
True, the win came over a struggling BYU team playing with a backup quarterback in his first college start. But it wouldn’t have mattered if the Cougars had their regular starter under center - the Badgers put together an offensive and defensive performance that answered the lingering question marks that were hanging over the team after their wins over Utah State and Florida Atlantic to start the season.
Wisconsin’s offense in particular responded after the Badgers scored 90 points in their first two games, but felt like they left a lot of plays and points out on the field – particularly last week against Florida Atlantic. But the Badgers, led by quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s record-setting day, rolled up almost 500 yards of offense on BYU’s defense, which came in to the game allowing just 17.3 points per game.
Hornibrook was nearly perfect, completing 18 of 19 passes for 256 yards with four touchdowns, setting a new UW record for single-game completion percentage (94.7 percent). It will be hard for Hornibrook to have another game like this one, especially as the Badgers move in to their Big Ten schedule after their bye week. But Hornibrook proved that the Badgers can make dynamic plays through the air – and his receivers and tight ends proved that they could make plays when the ball wasn’t exactly where the Badgers wanted it to be.
Wisconsin’s offensive line also put together a strong effort, allowing Hornibrook to be sacked just once – and Hornibrook probably was more at fault for the play anyway. The Badgers also dominated the line of scrimmage against the best front seven they’d seen so far – allowing freshman running back Jonathan Taylor to rush for 128 yards on 18 carries, scoring one touchdown. The Badgers averaged 4.8 yards per carry overall, and even got a chance to redeem their goal line offense, which failed to score a touchdown last week against the Owls on three chances.
Defensively there was less for the Badgers to clean up after their first two games. But they dominated BYU’s offense, which has now scored just two touchdowns in their last three games. The Badgers also kept their streak of shutting out teams in the second half alive, and got back to making big plays by picking off two of BYU quarterback Beau Hoge’s passes. The Cougars finished the game with just 192 total yards of total offense and just 4.2 yards per play - and the Badgers held BYU to just 129 yards after their second drive of the game, when former UW signee Ula Tolutau rushed for 38 yards on five carries to put the Cougars within field goal range.
But it was lights out after that, as the Badgers forced two three-and-outs to go along with their two turnovers, and the second team defense even added on a safety at the end of the game for good measure.
In short, it was a complete performance for the Badgers, who now have a chance to rest up their some of their banged up players before they start Big Ten play in two weeks with a home game against Northwestern.
It won’t always be this easy for UW as they try to win another division title, and maybe more, this season. But the Badgers gave us a glimpse of what this team could do when they’re firing on all cylinders after two weeks of nit-picking, and if they can pick up where they left off in two weeks – or come close – we’ll soon find out what Wisconsin’s real ceiling is this season.
John Veldhuis covers Wisconsin football, basketball and recruiting for BadgerBlitz.com on the Rivals.com network. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnVeldhuis.