Know Your Foe: BYU

Taking a break from Big Ten play to finish its nonconference slate, No.21 Wisconsin looks to have its hands full when it hosts a talented BYU program Saturday afternoon. Badger Nation gets the inside scoop on this week's opponent from Total Blue Sports beat writer Talo Steves.

After starting off 1-2 with losses to struggling Virginia and Utah, BYU has won five straight games. What has been the big reason for the winning streak, which includes an in-state win over Utah State on the road and a 47-46 victory at Houston?

Steves: There was a brand new offensive staff that was brought in this season, so it was going to take time for all the kinks to be worked out. As with any new offense, discovering what players can do what within a scheme, while developing timing and execution, comes over time through refinement and implementation. While there is still a lot to be worked out, more of the offensive elements are beginning to emerge.

Did the bye week come at a good time for the Cougars? What were some the main areas of concern BYU addressed during the off week?

Steves: It really did allow many of BYU's key players to heal up physically, especially on the offensive side of the ball where the offense has been running an equvilant of around five quarters worth of plays. Against Houston, BYU's offense ran 115 plays, tying a FBS record.

The rushing performance against No.14 Texas in week two was a huge eye opener (rushing 72 times for 550 yards, the most rushing yards ever against Texas). How have the Cougars built off that game to rank 14th in the country in rushing, averaging 258.8 yards per game?

Steves: The run aspect is often the foundation of every good offense and the first to be developed in every new offense. BYU is typically a high power passing program but the intricasies thereof take time to develop. Since rushing for 550 yards against Texas, the BYU offense has looked to develop more fully the passing game. Hill has become the only quarterback in BYU history to now throw for over 400 yards while rushing for over 100 in a single game. The passing scheme within BYU's offense is just starting to emerge and should continue to be a focus through out the season.

Taysom Hill was 27 for 41 for 339 yards and three touchdowns, with 69 yards rushing on 18 carries and a rushing touchdown in the win over Boise State two weeks ago. The team's leading rusher with 841 yards and the leading passer with 2,019 yards, where is he causing the most problems for opposing defenses?

Steves: It really depends on what the defense gives and if BYU has the ability to take advantage of it. Teams have now tried stacking the box to defend against the run, but that has opened up BYU's passing game as was seen against Boise State.

What's the philosophy of BYU's defense? What kind of schemes do they like to run and how have they been performing overall?

Steves: BYU runs a 3-4-4 defense that places a lot of emphasis on having diverse linebackers that can cover in space, rush off the edge while plug gaps against the run. The strength of the 3-4 defense is it's diversity, flexabilty and ability to disguise the defensive attack. Coach Bronco Mendenhall's defense has been ranked among the top among the nation, including third overall last year.

BYU has already accepted a bid to the Kraft Fight Hunger bowl. Explain the rationale behind accepting a bowl bid so early?

Steves: To lock up a bowl bid as an independent program is a wise thing to do. BYU can always opt out if another bowl bid comes calling.

Gary Andersen's Utah State teams went 1-3 against BYU, but lost the last two years by only a field goal. How competitive were the games between Utah State and BYU with Andersen as the coach and how well was the Aggies game plan?

Steves: Coach Andersen is a very good coach and the first one to say that would be Mendenhall, who is very close to him on a personal level. Over the past couple of years, Utah State has grown as a football program. A lot of that is due to the increase level of talent that wasn't there prior to Andersen taking over as head coach and him having the wisdom and foresight to develop the program. Coach Andersen used the talent to give him the most effective results.

What areas of Wisconsin do you expect will give BYU trouble? Where do you think the Cougars have the edge over the Badgers?

Steves: BYU's offensive line is still a work in progress and there could be some issues there with continuity due to injuries. Games are won in the trenches and BYU has struggled at times this year due to the performance of the offesive line primarily due to attrition issues. One area where BYU might have an advantage is the strength of its All-American linebackers and Mendenhall ‘s well-tuned defense.

What is the one thing BYU needs to do well in order to win Saturday?

Steves: The offensive line will have to perform well enough to give Hill some time to throw the ball in passing downs and open up holes to force the Badgers defense to defend the run. If BYU's offense is able to gash the defense in the run game, it could open things up for BYU's passing offense.

What's your unbiased prediction for the game?

Steves: Being at home Wisconsin should have the advantage: Wisconsin 35, BYU 31.

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