In a game that was dominated in the trenches by Wisconsin, the Badgers took care of business at Camp Randall Stadium and protected home field, defeating BYU 27-17.
Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1) was paced by running back James White, who scored all three of the Badgers' touchdowns on the afternoon. It was the second consecutive week that the senior tailback breached the century mark on the ground as he totaled 149 rushing yards.
The return of Chris Borland inspired the Wisconsin defense—BYU's uptempo offense could never quite get settled until the waning moments, and the Badgers front seven kept dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill in check. The sophomore quarterback failed to complete 50 percent of his passes and only managed 53 rushing yards, many of which came in garbage time.
With the loss, the Cougars (6-3) are eliminated from BCS contention while the Badgers still have an outside chance at climbing into the Top 14 of the BCS standings. Let's find out the 10 things we learned from the Badgers' victory over BYU.
Last week against Iowa, senior running back James White reminded everyone that he wasn't all that bad at this running the football thing, as sophomore sensation Melvin Gordon has been the one stealing headlines all season long.
Well, White did it again against the Cougars, scoring all three of Wisconsin's touchdowns and accumulating 194 total yards—147 of them coming on the ground. What also goes unnoticed is White's ability in pass protection, as he helped to give quarterback Joel Stave plenty of time to throw the football.
Technically, White is the Badgers' No. 1 tailback, and over the past two weeks, he's shown why. In two games that Wisconsin desperately needed, White stepped up and helped the Badgers pull away in the second half.
Saturday afternoon featured the return of Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland from a hamstring injury he suffered against Illinois on Oct. 19. While the Badgers have been able to win in his absence, having No. 44 in the middle of that defense is always a welcome sight, and he showed no ill effects from that injured hammy against BYU.
Naturally, Borland led the team in tackles with 13, and he also led the team in sacks (2.0) and tackles for a loss (2.5). To have the senior linebacker against the Cougars was pivotal, as their offense was predicated on the dual-threat ability of Taysom Hill.
But the senior linebacker did what he does best—fly all over the field and make plays, most importantly on Hill, who was under duress all day and failed to break any lengthy runs. Borland deserves serious consideration for the Butkus Award despite missing the better part of two games—he's been that good.
Balance in the passing game, that is.
Wisconsin tight end Jacob Pedersen was involved in a play that led to an interception, but he was hit on the play. Other than that, Pedersen had a strong showing on a day in which the Badgers' No. 1 receiver, Jared Abbrederis, wasn't 100 percent coming off a chest injury.
One of the most crucial plays in the game came during Wisconsin's two-minute drill when Pedersen contorted his body in order to make a difficult catch on third down and set up a touchdown in the closing seconds of the first half.
Pedersen was a go-to target of Joel Stave on third down throughout the afternoon, and the result was six catches for 49 yards, as well as a clutch fumble recovery on a botched snap. Scouts believe Pedersen is one of the top tight ends in the country, and he's beginning to play like it.
Watching that football sail through the uprights can make all the difference.
Sophomore kicker Jack Russell was robbed of a 54-yard field goal against the Hawkeyes last Saturday when Kirk Ferentz iced Russell three times before he eventually missed the one that counted. But it was a telling sign that Russell was beginning to figure it out, and he finally knocked home his first career field goal against the Cougars.
In fact, Russell went 2-of-2 on the afternoon to get the Badgers six points they aren't used to getting via the kicking game. His longest attempt was only 38 yards, but both of his tries were sliced right down the middle of the uprights, and the wind was swirling all afternoon long at Camp Randall Stadium.
Hopefully it's a sign of things to come for Russell and Wisconsin's special teams unit.
For the second straight game, Melvin Gordon was held under 100 yards rushing, but it was only a matter of time before the sophomore tailback hit a bit of a roadblock this season.
Many of Gordon's lengthy gains this season have come as a result of the jet sweep, a play we didn't even see the Badgers attempt against BYU. That certainly didn't help Gordon's cause, although opponents are beginning to key in on that play, limiting how effective Gordon can be running the football.
Even still, Gordon ran the ball in between the tackles with a purpose against the Cougars, carrying the ball 19 times for 86 yards. One of those carries—his second one of the game—resulted in an 11-yard loss, as Gordon attempted to make something out of nothing and paid for it dearly.
Gordon proved that he is someone who can take the punishment of driving the ball up the middle, and with White's recent emergence, Wisconsin can make a strong case for having the best one-two punch that college football has to offer.
BYU's No. 1 receiver, Cody Hoffman, presented Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda with a bit of a conundrum. Hoffman measures at 6'4", and the Badgers don't possess much height at the cornerback position, so that led Aranda to match safety Dezmen Southward with Hoffman.
The result wasn't pretty, as Hoffman got the best of Southward on multiple occasions, including a 34-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter despite a pass-interference call on Southward. On the day, Hoffman caught seven passes for 113 yards and both of BYU's touchdowns.
Then again, Wisconsin couldn't really find anyone who was effective at holding Hoffman in check, and there is a reason he is the active leader in touchdown catches among FBS players. Still, even with the solid depth Wisconsin has at safety, that is where the senior belongs, and that was proven during this Week 11 matchup.
Southward's shift to corner opened the door for more players to contribute at the safety position, including Nate Hammon and converted quarterback Tanner McEvoy.
Hammon had a solid day, recording four tackles and a pass breakup while holding his own in coverage throughout the game. But who really stood out was McEvoy, who nabbed his first interception of his career thanks in part to an errant pass forced by linebacker Chris Borland.
McEvoy is an intimidating presence in the defensive backfield, measuring in at 6'6", but he's not just someone who always drops back in coverage and plays center field. The sophomore is someone who is willing to come up and lay a big hit, and he was able to accumulate five tackles, including one in BYU's backfield.
While a broken thumb prevented McEvoy from impacting the preseason quarterback competition, he still wants to return to quarterback next season. But with the way he's playing at safety, the coaching staff might not allow that to happen.
With all due respect to Indiana, the Hoosiers probably aren't going to present the Badgers with much of a challenge next Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, and Wisconsin can expect to improve to 8-2 on the season with two games to play.
The following week, however, is a different story.
After protecting home field and taking care of Penn State on Saturday afternoon, the Minnesota Golden Gophers improved to 8-2 on the season. That's right—Minnesota is 8-2, and it is hungry to wrestle back Paul Bunyan's Axe from the Badgers, who have held The Axe since 2004.
The game takes place at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, and it will be a Big Ten showdown between two 8-2 teams. Nobody could have seen this coming, but the Golden Gophers now present the biggest roadblock to the Badgers obtaining a 10-2 record and a potential BCS bowl berth. Minnesota will also be coming off a bye, so you better believe it will be fired up and ready to take down Wisconsin.
There are just always one or two errant passes that stick out to you when watching Joel Stave play quarterback for the Wisconsin Badgers.
Saturday against BYU was no different, as Stave missed a wide-open Jared Abbrederis in the end zone, forcing the Badgers to settle for a field goal and keeping the Cougars alive. Stave also failed to pick up the blitz on one occasion while staring down a receiver and came up short on a few throws to open receivers.
Maybe we're just being picky, because Stave finished 23-of-32 for 196 yards and a touchdown, and the interception he threw really wasn't the sophomore's fault. He always looks poised in the pocket and delivers the ball emphatically, but he is just a throw or two away from going from good to great.
We'll probably be saying this until the very end with Wisconsin as long as they are able to continue taking care of business and win football games. There are three games remaining on the slate for Gary Andersen's Badgers, all of which are very winnable.
As we mentioned on the opening slide, Wisconsin still needs to jump several teams to move from No. 24 in the BCS standing to within the Top 14, the necessary qualification to be eligible for a BCS bowl game. But several teams ranked ahead of the Badgers have a far more difficult remaining schedule, which should open the door for Wisconsin to make a push at the BCS.
Impressive victories over Iowa and BYU as of late should help the Badgers' cause, and so would a win over an 8-2 Minnesota team in two weeks. All Wisconsin can do is keep winning and let the chips fall where they may—and hope that a certain game that took place on Sept. 14 in Tempe, Ariz., doesn't wind up costing it an at-large BCS berth.