Troy Fumagalli

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QB Alex Hornibrook nearly perfect as Wisconsin rolls over BYU

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September is quickly turning into a month of horrors for BYU. While the Cougars offense has been atrocious, it was the defense’s turn to head South on Saturday as well, allowing Wisconsin to roll to an easy 40-6 victory that they controlled from the opening kickoff until the final few minutes.

Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook was the main reason why the team won their marquee non-conference road game, completing a nearly perfect afternoon in Provo by going 18/19 — the one incompletion was a bobbled drop — for 256 yards and four touchdown. Freshman tailback Jonathan Taylor joined in on the fun to continue his impressive run in the backfield by rushing for 128 yards and a score, literally using his big offensive line to run right over a typically stout BYU defense.

That the team put up nearly 500 yards of offense without involving star tight end Troy Fumagalli much (two catches, 39 yards and a touchdown) is also an encouraging sign for Paul Chryst’s squad as they enter Big Ten play in two weeks against Northwestern.

Wisconsin’s defense looked as good as ever in the picturesque setting under the Wasatch front but it was hard to tell if it was just the visitors being that good or the home team being that bad offensively. Beau Hoge struggled in his first start taking over for the injured Tanner Mangum (in a walking boot and scooter on the sidelines after an injury against Utah), completing just 11 passes for 111 yards while also throwing two interceptions. He didn’t get much help from his normally solid offensive line or run game either, with freshman Ula Tolutau managing to lead the ground game with only 58 yards.

The loss caps off a brutal run for the Cougars against Power Five competition, being outscored 86-19 in three losses to LSU, Utah and Wisconsin and managing to find the end zone just twice in 12 quarters. Things do ease up a tad on the schedule the rest of the way but it’s clear there are big questions that head coach Kalani Sitake and company have to answer going forward.

Meanwhile, the Badgers managed to pass their biggest test of the first half of the season with flying colors and may have an even better offense than first thought coming into the year. With Michigan likely being the only ranked team left on the schedule, Hornibrook and Wisconsin may be eyeing yet another division title and trip to a New Year’s Six bowl if they can continue to roll like this.

Wisconsin comfortably ahead of Tanner Mangum-less BYU at halftime in Provo

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BYU’s offense has been lackluster to start the 2017 season and they didn’t get much respite in their Week 3 matchup against Wisconsin’s stifling defense. As a result, the combination of a backup quarterback for the Cougars and an efficient performance from the visitors on both sides of the ball allowed the Badgers to hold a 24-6 lead going into the locker room at halftime in Provo.

Wisconsin tailback Jonathan Taylor picked up where he left of last week and led the way on the ground with 86 yards rushing and a touchdown that he powered across the goal line. His performance helped take the pressure off his backfield teammate Alex Hornibrook, who wrapped up two quarters worth of work with a near perfect stat line of 10/11 for 149 yards and two scores. Perhaps the biggest surprise for Paul Chryst’s offense was how much of that passing game didn’t have to rely on stud tight end Troy Fumagalli (just one catch for 20 yards).

With BYU starting quarterback Tanner Mangum on the sidelines in a walking boot and scooter, backup Beau Hoge (son of former NFLer Merril Hoge) was okay — if a bit wide-eyed — in his first extended action as the guy behind center but finished with 71 yards passing, an interception and another 25 yards rushing.

We’ll see if a big play that led to a field goal just before halftime could help spark the Cougars in the third quarter but it certainly looks Wisconsin is well on their way to a 3-0 start to the year based on the early returns from this trip out West.

No. 8 Wisconsin brings No. 15 Western Michigan dream season to close with a loss

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It was a magical season for No. 15 Western Michigan (13-1), but the mission of ending the season without a loss was blocked by No. 8 Wisconsin (11-3) in the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas on Monday afternoon. The Badgers took control of the game early on and kept Western Michigan at a comfortable distance the rest of the way in a 24-16 victory.

Wisconsin established order with its running game in the first half, with Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale each ending the first two possessions of the day with a touchdown run, but the Broncos battled back and hung around heading into the fourth quarter. Corey Davis caught a desperation pass in the end zone on a fourth down heave from Zach Terrell, giving the Broncos some life late in the game, but a missed extra point attempt meant the MAC champions would need to either recover an onside kick or come up with one last defensive stand against the Badgers. The onside kick bounced out of play, giving the ball to Wisconsin, and Troy Fumagalli caught a big first down to finish off a stellar day in the passing game (Bart Houston and Alex Hornibrook were a combined 13-of-14 for 178 yards). Fumagalli also had one touchdown grab and a brilliant one-handed catch in the first half.

Regardless of how it ended, it was a pure joy to watch Western Michigan grow as the season went along. One of the hottest teams in the MAC at the end of the 2015 season had the look and confidence of a MAC champion from the opening kickoff to the 2016 season, which started with a pair of victories against Wisconsin’s division foes in Northwestern and Illinois. Western Michigan ended the regular season as one of two undefeated teams in the country, joining Alabama. Western Michigan may have come up short on the scoreboard, but the Broncos belonged on the same field as Wisconsin.

In 2017, the Wisconsin Badgers will likely be among the top contenders for the big Ten Wets Division.The Badgers will get a slight relief on the Big Ten schedule in 2017 by not having to play Ohio State on the cross-divisional rotation. The Badgers will add Indiana instead in addition to a home game with Michigan. Wisconsin also plays at Nebraska and will get a nice out-of-conference test on the road against BYU. The 2017 season kicks off in Madison against Utah State on Friday, September 1.

Western Michigan will be fortunate to have P.J. Fleck back on the sideline in 2017, but expect his name to be floating around a number of coaching rumors in the year to come. The 2017 season will start with two road games against USC on Saturday, September 2 and against Michigan State the following week.

No. 7 Penn State completes comeback for the ages to claim B1G title

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On Sept. 24, Penn State was 2-2 on the season, 0-1 in Big Ten play after a 49-10 undressing by Michigan in Ann Arbor. Their Big Ten title hopes were left for dead. As we know, they managed to rally and win the Big Ten East.

And then, with 5:15 left in the second quarter, the Nittany Lions trailed 28-7 and their chances of actually winning the game were again left for dead.

But the Cardiac Cats rallied. Again. The seventh-ranked Lions closed the game on a 31-3 run to race past No. 6 Wisconsin for a 38-31 Big Ten Championship victory.

Of course, this win means much more than that. At 11-2 on the season, winners of nine in a row and winners of college football’s best conference, the question now becomes whether the College Football Playoff selection committee chooses the Lions over 11-1 Ohio State or Pac-12 champion Washington on Sunday.

But first, the comeback.

Penn State simply could not get out of its own way — or get Wisconsin out of its way… or get in Wisconsin’s way, for that matter — over the game’s first 25 minutes. The Badgers opened by forcing two three-and-outs and launching two long touchdown drives to grab a 14-0 lead a dozen minutes into the game. After a McSorley touchdown pass put Penn State on the board, the Nittany Lions allowed an errant snap to be returned for a touchdown early in the second quarter.

James Franklin elected to go for a fourth-and-short in his own territory on the ensuing possession and was rebuffed. Wisconsin again capitalized on the mistake to grab a 28-7 lead with 5:15 remaining in the first half. Penn State again failed on a fourth-and-short near midfield on the next possession, but this time the Badgers failed to cash in. And that proved costly.

Because that failure to land the death blow allowed Penn State’s Cardiac Cats persona to awaken.

The Lions’ comeback started when McSorley hit Saeed Blacknall for a 40-yard touchdown catch with 58 seconds left in the half to pull within  a more manageable 28-14 deficit at the break.

After Wisconsin missed a field goal to open the second half, McSorley answered by finding Blacknall for a 70-yard scoring strike on the very next play. Then Penn State tied the game on its next touch as Saquon Barkley punched in a 1-yard score at the 4:22 mark of the third quarter.

Wisconsin re-gained the lead with a 23-yard Andrew Endicott chip shot, but only after Bart Houston missed what would have been a walk-in touchdown to tight end Troy Fumagalli on 2nd-and-8 from the 10-yard line.

Given the opportunity to take the lead, Penn State took full advantage, marching 81 yards in only four plays as Barkley hauled in an 18-yard wheel route from McSorley.

McSorley finished the game hitting 22-of-31 passes for 384 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions — against a defense that came in allowing eight touchdowns while swiping 21 interceptions. Compared to Houston’s numbers — 16-of-21 for 174 yards — quarterback play proved to be the difference in the game. McSorley’s play allowed Penn State to win a game in which it was out-rushed 241-51.

Wisconsin punted on its next touch, and Penn State missed its chance to deliver a knockout punch, instead settling for a 24-yard Tyler Davis field goal with 5:14 to play in the game.

Wisconsin would need a touchdown to force overtime, while Penn State would need a stop to complete its 21-point comeback. The Badgers moved to the Penn State 24, but, facing a 4th-and-1, Corey Clement was stuffed for no gain.

Penn State expired the final 58 seconds and secured the largest comeback ever in a Power 5 conference championship game.