Falling four yards short of 200 yards would suggest a poor passing day, but sophomore quarterback Joel Stave completed 71.9 percent of his passes (23-for-32) and delivered some big throws when the Badgers' offense needed him.
For the second straight week Stave connected with his tight end late in the first half to provide a boost, connecting with Jacob Pedersen down the left hash mark to add another touchdown in the waning seconds of the first half. That play came on a third-and-10.
"I think offensively we're doing a good job making those big plays," said Stave. "A lot of it starts with the quarterback. You've got to make the throw, you've got to make sure you're giving everyone an opportunity to make that play and the way that everyone has responded as been huge."
Going against a talented defense with a ton of athletes in a scheme that likes to utilize the blitz, Stave stayed generally composed, utilizing a lot of different options and checks at the line of scrimmage, when needed, to keep the offense moving forward.
"Joel, I thought, played really well," said Pedersen. "He was putting the balls where they needed to be … He made a lot of great throws. There were a lot of throws where he only had only place to put the ball and he put them right there."
Yes, there were a couple issues. Stave didn't have his head on a swivel and showed no movement in the pocket when he took a sack on third-and-four near midfield (a no-no in that situation), a couple throws missed the mark and his interception – doing so for the sixth time in nine games this season – was thrown in double coverage, although Pedersen got his hands on it and could have caught it.
Regardless, Wisconsin had three scoring drive in the first half of 11 plays and had four scoring drives of at least 10 plays, the first time this season the Badgers have done that. Credit for that goes to all 11 players on offense, including the offense's engineer.
"We had a number of really long drives to keep our defense off the field and their offense off the field," said Stave. "Coming out with the win was what's important."
"Anytime you get a chance to celebrate with your teammates and have a little fun, that's the reason you play the game," said White. "We try to have fun as much as possible."
In the last two weeks, nobody has been having more fun to White, as he has accounted for 345 yards and six touchdowns, the best two-game stretch since November 2010. His performance statistically was impressive against BYU (147 rushing yards on 23 carries, 47 receiving yards on a career-high six catches and three touchdowns), but his ability to pick up blitzing BYU linebackers was vital in helping keep Stave upright.
He registered a key block to allow for a 10-yard completion on UW's touchdown drive to end the first half. White was also in protection until the last possible second on that touchdown, but went to the flat after the pocket was contained. He ended up being the receiver and caught a five-yard touchdown.
"He's a jack-of-all-trades-type-of guy," said Pedersen. "I trust him that when he has to pass block, he's going to get the job done. When he has to run he's going to make that one cut to get you as many yards as possible. In the passing game, when a running back can do that in the passing game it's just a nightmare for defenses, knowing that when's he's on the field there's all those possible opportunities. I think he's been playing really well and we need him to keep it up."
"It makes a better jump cut than anyone I've ever seen," added Stave. "Seeing him making a guy miss in the hole is really fun to watch.
Fans have come to expect so much of Melvin Gordon this year that after his 19 carry, 86-yard performance, being held out of the end zone and under 100 yards for the second straight game, a reporter asked Andersen if the sophomore phenom was banged up. Nope, UW is just going with the hot hand.
After suffering a rib injury in the third quarter against Iowa, senior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis was finally given the go ahead Thursday. He finished with eight catches for 67 yards, and didn't appear to having any setbacks.
We mentioned Pedersen earlier, and that 24-yard catch was the highlight of his six catch, 49-yard day.
As mentioned in the game story, Jordan Fredrick only had one catch for 15 yards, but it came on a third-and-13 on UW's first drive, helping the Badgers sustain some early momentum and eventually get a touchdown. Fredrick and Abbrederis again were stellar in run blocking, springing a couple lengthy runs for the tailbacks.
"Where we've struggle in the past is that first drive," said Fredrick. "When we get a three-and-out, it feels like we wasted an opportunity when we know we can take advantage of what they give us. Just being able to drive down on the first drive was pretty comforting, knowing that we can do that all day. That was huge. When you are comfortable about what can happen, you can just roll from there."
The only glaring negative in the passing game was the play of Kenzel Doe, who caught two passes but had a critical fumble after the catch. Instead of UW having a first down inside the BYU 30, the Cougars took over on their own 20.
Talking to a reporter who is familiar with the NFL on Saturday, he was impressed how dominant Wisconsin's offense plays despite not having any clear first-round draft pick; out of the norm for a group that seems to produce them yearly.
Wisconsin's line was well prepared for the BYU defense, having seen a 3-4 with talented linebacking play since the spring. Not only did the line clear the way for 233 rushing yards from its top two backs, Stave was only sacked once and the Cougars weren't credited with any quarterback hurries. Senior left guard Ryan Groy said the pass protection was "OK," but the stats say otherwise.
"Offensive line does a great job each and every week," said White. "I don't think they get enough credit, as well as the tight ends and receivers. Whenever we have a nice run, they're doing a good job and try to do it to perfection each and every snap."
BYU quarterback Taysom Hill came in ranked sixth nationally in total offense at 357.5 yards per game, but was held to 260 total yards. Hill and Jamaal Williams came into the game averaging over 100 yards rushing each, but Williams managed only 76 yards and Hill only scratched out 53.
Wisconsin threw pressure at Hill early and often, sacking Hill four times and forcing four quarterback hurries. The line didn't register a sack and only one half tackle for loss, but it's hard to complain when the coaches put only two linemen and five linebackers on the field.
Tyler Dippel didn't record a tackle in limited reps, but it was evident that his pregame speech and his presence after missing last week's game with a "serious family issue" motivated his teammates.
Chris Borland, who missed last week's game against Iowa because of an injured hamstring, recorded a team-high 13 tackles, including eight solos against BYU. Although he said he wasn't trying to make up for lost time or outperform BYU All-American linebacker Kyle Van Hoy, Borland certainly played like in registering two of UW's four sacks and creating plenty of pressures.
"Everyone is performing well right now on Saturdays defensively," said Borland. "We'll continue to improve, and we will, but it's just a joy to be a part of."
Wisconsin switched its coverage around to throw some curveballs against BYU, all of which appear like brilliant moves by defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. Senior linebacker Ethan Armstrong moved from outside to inside (recording five tackles and one sack) and Joe Schobert worked on the outside, delivering some big hits early in the game and broke up a team-high two passes.
Hill said the game plan was for BYU to attack the edges and throw to outside receivers, but those changes, he admitted, affected the BYU game plan.
Brendan Kelly stayed at boundary linebacker and had four tackles and a sack. Enjoy this group now, fans, because it's going to be vastly different next season.
Senior receiver Cody Hoffman had seven catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns, but the secondary held the rest of the group to only 12 catches for 94 yards and no scores, solid numbers. The majority of Hoffman's damage, however, came against senior Dezmen Southward, who was moved up to play Hoffman on the line of scrimmage and performed inconsistently.
Southward struggled in coverage, was beat off the line of scrimmage when he tried to play physical with Hoffman and drew a couple penalty flags, although a couple were picked up because of uncatchable passes.
"It was definitely an adjustment," said Southward. "I was able to do some really good things out there, at the same time there were two plays I'd really like to have back … Obviously, people will be critical. I don't care, we got the win."
Michael Caputo contributed in a variety of ways – played at the line of scrimmage, in one-on-one coverage and playing deep – and recorded a season-high 12 tackles.
"I thought he was very physical, for the most part, on his tackles," Andersen said. "That kid will throw it in there. You want to talk about tough, physical, want-to, care factor — it's all rolled up into one with that man. He's in a position where it's great to see him have success."
Wisconsin also continued to get good plays out of Tanner McEvoy, who finished with five tackles, one tackle for loss, had one pass breakup and registered his first collegiate interception, the lone turnover UW created.
"I think he's becoming more physical and more confident in the post," Andersen said. "I think he's becoming more confident in breaking his angles and reading the quarterbacks eye, and becoming more confident in his tackling ability. He's improving and he has enough games under his belt where there's no excuse for him not to play well."
The play of Sojourn Shelton, Darius Hillary and Peniel Jean drew no complaints from me, as the group played strong on plenty of third-and-longs. BYU needing to gain an average of 7.1 yards on its 19 third-down plays (converting only seven).
Jack Russell is finally on the board, kicking a 38-yard and 26-yard field goal to start to settle into the position, we think. Doe made up for his fumble with a 26-yard punt return early in the third quarter that set up Russell's second field goal, giving UW a 20-3 lead.
Mother Nature continues to plague Drew Meyer, as a wind-swept stadium limited to a 34.0 average on six punts, but he put three inside the 20. Kicker Andrew Endicott averaged only 59.8 yards per kick with one touchback.