Badgers offense falters against physical Cougars defense
The University of Wisconsin football team was practically unstoppable on offense during a 34-point road win at BYU last season.
That performance seemed like an eternity ago as the No. 6 Badgers struggled to move the ball consistently during a shocking 24-21 loss to the Cougars on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
“I think the biggest difference was our execution as an offense,” UW left guard Michael Deiter said when asked to compare the games. “Last year we played really well and today we didn’t play very well.”
There was plenty of blame to go around for the Badgers, from coaching to junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook to a highly regarded offensive line that failed to take over the game.
Deiter wanted to make one thing perfectly clear, however.
“They’re a good defense,” Deiter said. “They have a lot of energy, they tackle well, they jam up gaps. If you’re not (at) 100 percent, they’re going to make you look really bad. And that’s what they did.”
That point couldn’t be argued after UW managed 5.5 yards per play and went 4 of 13 on third down against the Cougars. The Badgers ran 71 plays, and only three of them gained 20 or more yards.
BYU was determined to make Jonathan Taylor earn everything he got, and the sophomore tailback didn’t have a run longer than 15 yards.
Taylor finished with 117 yards on 26 carries, a 4.5 average. It was only the third time in 17 career games that Taylor was held below 5 yards per carry.
“They played the board well,” Taylor said. “They defended the pass well, defended the run well. I think it was just up to us to make plays and win our one-on-one matchups.”
With Taylor contained, UW needed a good game from Hornibrook. That didn’t happen.
A year after going 18 of 19 for 256 yards and four touchdowns against the Cougars, Hornibrook was 18 of 28 for 190 yards on Saturday.
The Badgers still might have been OK had Hornibrook been able to avoid turning the ball over. Instead, he underthrew tight end Jake Ferguson early in the third quarter, resulting in an interception that led to a BYU touchdown.
“Not sure,” Hornibrook said after the game when asked about the interception, his second of the season and 17th since the start of the 2017 campaign. “I’ll check it out on tape.”
The UW offense had a chance to redeem itself late in the game. The Badgers got the ball back at their own 8-yard line with 3:55 to go and methodically worked their way into scoring position.
Hornibrook completed passes of 10 (Taylor), 15 (A.J. Taylor) and 19 yards (Garrett Groshek). He scrambled for 16 yards to the BYU 26.
After a 2-yard run by Taiwan Deal on first down, Hornibrook rolled to his right on the next play and had room to run. Instead, he overthrew A.J. Taylor in the end zone. After another incompletion, Rafael Gaglianone missed a 42-yard field goal that would have tied the game with 36 seconds remaining.
With nearly its entire offensive unit intact from last season, the offense was supposed to carry the Badgers this season.
When the team needed that unit to deliver on Saturday, it underperformed.
“It wasn’t like we were looking down our noses at anyone because from the outside everyone said we were a damn good offense,” Deiter said. “We know that you still have to execute. People telling you you’re good doesn’t just mean that you’re good on Saturdays.”