Passing game essential for Cougar success

Throughout the 2013 season, Wisconsin's defense has only allowed two rushing plays of 20 yards or more. Against Boise State, the Cougar offense racked up 339 passing yards with many different receivers contributing. If there is an area where the Cougars could enjoy some success against Wisconsin, it could come in the passing game.

Much like against Boise State, this Saturday at Wisconsin the Cougar offensive line will have to give BYU quarterback Taysom Hill some time to stand in the pocket, let routes develop, and pass downfield. The Cougars are expecting Wisconsin to primarily run man coverage, which BYU has enjoyed success against this season.

"They run a man and a cover-four – which means the safeties play a quarter of the field – and then some zone blitz," said Coach Beck. "It's similar to what [Coach Anderson] had done in the past at Utah State and Utah."

Boise State ran a lot of man coverage against BYU's offense, electing to bring down a safety in order to aid in corralling the legs of Taysom Hill and the Cougars running backs. Wisconsin played primarily man coverage in their win over Iowa last week. The same defensive philosophy is expected this week against BYU, with Wisconsin likely bringing down a safety to spy Hill and help stop the run.

"With the man teams, they're able to have a guy for the quarterback to keep an eye on him, which may limit your scramble plays," Coach Beck said. "But it gives you an opportunity to work the pocket and get some of those big chunk plays."

BYU is expecting the Badgers to make the effort of shutting down the run with their front seven, so opening up the passing game might be a key to BYU's offensive success.

"For our offense to be most effective, we gotta extend drives," said Coach Beck. "You know, we have to convert first downs, get the drive going. We feel like once we convert a couple of first downs, the tempo is going to wear teams out. You know, everybody is going to be fresh the first three plays, so it's a matter of getting into those six- and eight-play drives where we feel like we can take an advantage with our tempo. So, obviously that's key for us and not just throwing our defense right back out there."

Defending BYU's tall, fast and experienced receivers will be two cornerbacks Sojourn Shelton and Peniel Jean. Shelton is a 5-foot-9-inch, 172-pound freshman, while Jean is a 5-foot-11-inch, 187-pound redshirt junior.

"They're good, they're fast, they're very sound also," said receiver Mitch Mathews. "To play in the conference they play in you have to be very sound and smart because they play against a lot of good athletes and teams. They're good. They're young but they're good."

Much like what Chris Borland does for Wisconsin's middle linebackers, strong safety Dezman Southward does for the Badger secondary. A 6-foot-2-inch, 210-pound redshirt senior, he was named a preseason third-team all-Big Ten nominee. His performance this season so far may have surpassed that preseason prediction.

"Both of their corners are good cover guys. They do a good job," said Coach Beck. "[Southward], who is their safety, he shows up a lot in the run game and shows up a lot in coverage. They're all good players."

At free safety is 6-foot-1-inch, 206-pound redshirt sophomore Michael Caputo. Caputo and Dezman are very good run-stuffers according to the scouting reports.

"They're big and they're going to be able to stop the run pretty well," said Mathews. "They're physical, so we have to be able to pass the ball and throw it up and do what we've been doing these past few games with our receivers [which] is get open and give Taysom some good routes to throw to."

The trend of up-tempo offenses hasn't fully hit the Big Ten conference as of yet, so it will be interesting to see how Wisconsin handles and adjusts to BYU's quick tempo.

"In general with man teams you're going to get bigger plays, but you're also going to have more low-yardage plays," said Coach Beck. "That's why they do it. They're able to get an extra guy in the box to kind of hold you to smaller plays and more incompletions versus being able to get bigger chunk plays. So, it's kind of good and bad. You can get some bigger chunk plays, but at the same time you face a few more low-yardage plays. It's a matter of getting more of your fair share and getting as many as you can."

This could give Cougar receivers Cody Hoffman, Mitch Mathews and Ross Apo an opportunity to shine on the big stage in man coverage.

"When you have a one-on-one matchup, you feel like, 'Hey, this is a guy that's going to win,'" said Coach Beck in reference to Hoffman. "When anytime you have an opportunity to get him the ball, he's going to make a play for you, so that is definitely kind of a security blanket for the quarterback to feel comfortable with.

"You know, I think Skyler [Ridley] has really developed his way into that. He's been a really dependable guy, and Mitch and Ross both the last few weeks have been doing the same. It's good to see that out of the receivers. The more those guys make plays, the more confidence you have and the more you feel you can depend on them."