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Wisconsin at BYU: Preview, players to watch and predictions

Wisconsin hits the road for the first time in 2017. Will this trip out West end better than the last? Here is our look at Wisconsin vs. BYU.

When: Sat. Sept. 16; 2:30pm CT
Where: Provo, Utah; LaVell Edwards Stadium (63,470)
TV: ABC
All-Time Series: Tied 1-1
Last Meeting: Wisconsin win (27-17, Nov. 9, 2013)
Line: Wisconsin (-16.5)

For the first time in the 2017 season, Wisconsin will go on the road. After two weeks of comfort at Camp Randall, it will be interesting to see if the Badgers will be up to the challenge of travel this season.

BYU seemed like a great challenge after the 2013 matchup in Provo, but change has been afoot for the Cougars and they come in just 1-2 on the season after losses to Power 5 opponents LSU and Utah already.

Wisconsin travels West with plenty of questions to answer of its own. There could be a few offensive linemen missing, some shuffling at running back as well. Sophomore running back Bradrick Shaw has been listed as questionable all week long. That likely means an even greater opportunity for budding star, freshman Jonathan Taylor, after a breakout week last week against Florida Atlantic.

Let us take a look in to an important matchup for a Badgers team looking to maintain a perfect record and boost their standing on the national scale.

1 Burning Question: Can Wisconsin’s Offensive Line Protect Hornibrook?

While most has gone right for the Wisconsin Badgers so far in 2017, one area of concern has been the lack of time available to redshirt sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook. He’s been hit a lot and despite the offensive line giving up only 3 sacks so far this season there is a lot to be desired about Wisconsin’s pass protection.

Week 3 presents a unique challenge for the Badgers as both offensive guards could be out. Left guard Jon Dietzen is already out and that means Micah Kapoi slides in. He’s a veteran presence, but the worrisome part is if preseason All-American right guard Beau Benzschawel isn’t a go this weekend. He is listed as questionable, but wasn’t ruled out like Dietzen was on Thursday. Should he not go, look for the inexperienced sophomore, Jason Erdmann to get his first collegiate start. Yes, that means two-thirds of the starters on the interior of the line will be different and it could play a key role in the success of both the run and pass game for the Badgers.  

2 Key Stats:

1: That is the number of passing touchdowns the Badgers have given up this season on defense. That number is tied for the 2nd fewest in the country after Week 2 (and some teams with just one game ahead of the Badgers in this category). BYU’s offense comes in having put up just two passing touchdowns in three games.

The secondary, which was once seen as the unknown for UW’s defense has proven to be up to the task. Not only have they allowed just one passing touchdown, the Badgers have picked off three passes which puts them in 10th nationally and tied for the top spot in the Big Ten after two weeks of play.

23: No, we aren’t talking Michael Jordan here, but 23 does represent the percentage UW opponents are converting on 3rd downs this season.

Wisconsin opponents have converted on just 7 of 30 opportunities on third downs and it is that kind of production that has allowed just 12.0 points per game in two contests. BYU on the other hand hasn’t been very good on third downs offensively, converting on just 32 percent of third down opportunities in three games. That’s a major point of contention for BYU’s offense and a major strength for the Badgers. Let’s see if they can keep the Cougars from converting on Saturday.

3 Key Players:

Jonathan Taylor, RB (Wisconsin): J-Taylor burst on to the scene last weekend with 223 yards and three touchdowns in his first collegiate start. Yes, it was against Florida Atlantic and Lane Kifffin’s crew seem hellbent on giving up all the rushing yards possible this season, but Taylor impressed with patience, power, speed and vision. He’s got “it” if you will, to the tune of ranking 7th in the country in rushing yards per game (155) and tied for 5th in the country with 4 rushing touchdowns already. It will be interesting to see how UW’s offensive line issues help, or hurt the run game in Provo on Saturday afternoon. Don’t be surprised to see J-Taylor finding the will to get things done regardless.

Natrell Jamerson, S (Wisconsin): Last weekend the Badgers gave up a big play touchdown in the pass game to FAU and it was obvious that Natrell Jamerson and new starting cornerback Nick Nelson had a big time communication breakdown. It was strange to see from two veteran players, but the good news is that Jamerson rebounded (much like the rest of the defense) and put the clamps down on the Owls passing attack. You can bet BYU is going to try to test the Badgers secondary, Jamerson seems to hold the key to the physicality and the big play ability for UW’s defense.

Ty Detmer, OC (BYU): This should be a name very familiar to Packers fans out there, as he was a quality backup under Brett Favre back in the 1990’s. Oh…and something about winning a Heisman Trophy while playing at BYU too. That said, Detmer’s offenses haven’t gotten off the ground this season. That could be because of health issues at quarterback or because he has had to go up against Dave Aranda’s LSU defense and Utah’s quality D as well. Simply put, whoever comes out as the starter at QB on Saturday has to be able to find a rhythm or Detmer’s offense doesn’t work. That may be easier said than done for the third straight week, but his decisions as a coach are going to be huge in this game.

PREDICTION

Wisconsin 44, BYU 10

This game would’ve been a lot closer last season, but Tanner Magnum is not the threat that Taysom Hill was and without Jamaal Williams also in the backfield, let’s just say there’s an identity crisis in Provo. There’s still plenty of question who will start at QB for the Cougars, and that’s also not a good sign of a competitive game for the hosts. Wisconsin’s stingy defense won’t help matters and I fully expect to see the Badgers pull out the victory here.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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