The offense is nearly back to full strength at No. 6 Wisconsin.
Tight end Zander Neuville returned last week from injury. Receiver Danny Davis is due back from suspension on Saturday when BYU visits Camp Randall Stadium.
Two more targets for quarterback Alex Hornibrook — and that’s not even counting perhaps the best call in the Badgers’ playbook: a handoff to FBS rushing leader Jonathan Taylor.
“Once everyone gets back in their groove, I think it can really be special for our offense,” receiver Kendric Pryor said.
The Cougars (1-1) have an idea of just how tough Wisconsin (2-0) can be to stop. Hornibrook threw four touchdown passes in the Badgers’ 40-6 victory over BYU last year in Provo, while Taylor ran for 128 yards and scored once.
Most of Wisconsin’s key players from that game are back, including an experienced and physical offensive line.
“The guys up front kind of hold their ground there and then it’s up to us to make the play,” linebacker Zayne Anderson said.
BYU did come up with some big plays on defense last week against California, including two fumble recoveries by safety Dayan Ghanwoloku. One was returned for a touchdown.
But the offense had a letdown after a promising debut in the season-opening victory over Arizona. The Cougars were held to 94 total yards and four first downs in the second half in losing their home opener to the Golden Bears.
“We made some mistakes, and a ballgame can come down to those key plays that we didn’t capitalize on,” coach Kalani Sitake said. “Nobody feels worse about this loss than the players and coaches, but the key is to get back to work.”
Taylor, Wisconsin’s star sophomore, is coming off career highs of 253 yards and 33 carries, along with three touchdowns, in last week’s 45-14 win over New Mexico. He leads the FBS in rushing (199 yards per game) but is also determined to take better care of the ball after fumbling in his first two games.
“The last thing we want to do is press about something you did the last series or the last play,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said about Taylor’s fumbling issues.
“You’ve got to move forward. Obviously we want to minimize the negatives in any way, (but) you’ve got to trust how you prepare and then let it go and play,” Rudolph said. “That’s where it goes back to your prep.”
- With the receiving corps depleted over the first two weeks, A.J. Taylor emerged as a big-play target. Had a career-high 134 yards and a touchdown against New Mexico, plus a nifty left-handed grab of a pass along the sideline with his other hand tangled up with the defensive back.
“What I see in A.J. is that he is an unbelievable worker,” coach Paul Chyrst said.
- Davis is coming back from a two-game suspension after being named in court documents connected with the arrest of receiver Quintez Cephus on sexual assault charges. Cephus has been indefinitely suspended.
According to police, Davis was at the apartment at the time of the alleged assaults by Cephus, who has denied wrongdoing. Davis was present in the apartment and one of the women said he took pictures of them, according to a criminal complaint. Davis has not been charged.
Davis was able to practice with the team during his suspension. He emerged as a freshman last season to become a key target with 26 catches for 418 yards and five touchdowns.
- BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum missed last year’s meeting with Wisconsin. Mangum must avoid turnovers such as the two fourth-quarter interceptions he threw last week against California. He’ll face a secondary with three first-year starters that has played relatively well so far this year.
- BYU, an independent program, is facing its third Power Five school to open the season. The Cougars do have recent experience winning on the road in the Big Ten, including a 2015 win over Nebraska and a victory at Michigan State the following season.