Madison, WI (SportsNetwork.com) - Two of the hottest teams in the nation are set for a Saturday matinee at Camp Randall Stadium, as the 21st-ranked Wisconsin Badgers play host to the BYU Cougars in a non-conference bout.
Since losing to Utah on Sept. 21 (20-13), BYU has been red-hot, reeling off five straight wins to improve to 6-2, becoming bowl eligible for the ninth straight season in the process. The Cougars recently defeated Boise State at home, 37-20. Although they narrowly missed being ranked in the latest AP poll, receiving 28 votes, a road victory in this matchup would almost certainly rectify that situation.
"I think our team is improving and that they are more optimistic than ever," coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "The bye week (came) at a really good time to heal and give us a few extra days to look at Wisconsin. We're looking forward to a great game in Madison on a big stage, in front of a lot of people and I think that our team is looking forward to it."
Wisconsin has been on a run of its own of late, ripping off three straight wins over Northwestern (35-6), Illinois (56-32), and Iowa (28-9) to claim the Heartland Trophy last Saturday. After back-to-back road games, the Badgers return to Madison where they've been perfect in four contests this season.
"We're playing a very good team in BYU," coach Gary Andersen said in his address to the media earlier this week. "They're on a roll. They've gotten progressively better. They've beaten very good teams this year, and it's an opponent that a lot of people on this staff know fairly well ... It's going to be great to come back home. We've got three more opportunities left this month to play in Camp Randall. So (the team is) excited about that opportunity."
The only previous meeting between these two programs came back in 1980, when BYU defeat Wisconsin in Madison, 28-3.
BYU's offense has been outstanding this season, scoring 32.4 ppg while ranking 12th in the nation in total yards (511.1 ypg), displaying a strong balance between the run (258.8 ypg) and the pass (252.4 ypg).
The Cougars' attack is predicated on a dual-threat weapon at quarterback, and Taysom Hill has answered the call by throwing for 2,019 yards, rushing for 841 yards, and accounting for 20 total touchdowns to go with only eight interceptions.
The primary ball carrier, other than Hill, has been Jamaal Williams. While he often falls out of favor near the goal line (three touchdowns), he has otherwise played well with 145 carries for 733 yards.
Despite missing two games, Cody Hoffman is still the team's leading receiver with 29 catches for 524 yards and three touchdowns. Mitch Mathews (22 catches, 387 yards, four TDs) is also a big-play threat out wide.
Equally important to BYU's success has been its impressive defense, which allows just 21.2 ppg and is anchored by one of the nation's top linebackers in Kyle Van Noy.
Even though he often faces double- and even triple-teams, Van Noy has impressed with 46 tackles, 11.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery, and while his numbers may be down from his 13.0-sack junior season, his coach still views him as an irreplaceable aspect of the defense.
"I don't ever underestimate what Kyle can do," Mendenhall said. "Any accolades that he gets, he deserves."
Uani 'Unga (84 tackles, two FF), Alani Fua (45 tackles two INTs, 2.0 sacks) and Danie Sorensen (two INTs) are also in the midst of strong campaigns.
Although Wisconsin's offense lags behind BYU's (494.6 ypg), it has actually been more efficient in scoring points (38.4 ppg), thanks largely to perhaps the best running back duo in the nation.
Melvin Gordon is one of the most explosive players in the country, as he ranks sixth in the FBS in rushing yards (1,074) on an incredible 8.7 yards per carry, while scoring 11 touchdowns. In last week's win over Iowa, Gordon had just 62 yards, but James White stepped up with 132 yards and two scores, giving him 804 yards and nine touchdowns on the season.
"James White had a very good game," Andersen said. "It was tough sledding against a very good (Iowa) defense, and he kept pounding away the whole football game."
With a pair of elite rushers to ease his burden, Joel Stave has quietly pieced together a strong season under center, completing nearly 63 percent of his passes for 1,630 yards with 16 touchdowns (one rushing) and seven interceptions.
Stave is fortunate to have Jared Abbrederis to throw to, as the senior is the Big Ten's third-leading receiver both in terms of catches (46) and yardage (782), while scoring six touchdowns.
The Wisconsin football program is historically known for its stout defense, and this season has been no different, as it ranks fifth in the nation in scoring defense (15.0 ppg) and sixth in total defense (286.1 ypg), all while forcing teams to go just 35-of-120 on third down (29 percent).
Chris Borland has a team-high 57 tackles, but he is listed as questionable for this bout with a hamstring injury. Some of the Badgers' other defensive playmakers include Michael Caputo (40 tackles), Sojour Shelton (three INTs) and Warren Herring (5.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks).