Greetings from Madison, Wis., where the Cougars will test the No. 21 Badgers tomorrow at historic Camp Randall Stadium (1:30 p.m. MST, ESPN).
I arrived here at the capitol of Wisconsin in the early afternoon, and quickly drove over the stadium to check the place out. It has an older feel to it, at least from the outside where concrete slabs stretch to the sky.
Saw several BYU fans milling around the area, taking pictures under the historic arch that stands as the main entrance to the stadium. Dozens more blue-clad fans were on my flights from Salt Lake City, routed through Detroit.
But however many BYU fans have made the trip, or are coming from the surrounding area, they will be a minuscule part of the crowd that should number close to 80,000, which is close to capacity here.
It was a cloudy, gloomy and mildly cold day in Madison, with temperatures in the low 40s. It is supposed to be a bit warmer on Saturday — temps could reach the high 40s — but there’s a chance of rain.
Several publications and national writers or broadcasters have called Madison the best college town in America, so I am eager to check it out on game day. The few Wisconsin fans I spoke to about the game have professed to knowing very little about BYU.
They feel good about the Badgers’ prospects, though, with most noting that coach Gary Andersen has plenty of knowledge about BYU and should have his team ready for whatever the Cougars bring.
I’ve written several articles this week about what the game will come down to. I believe it is going to be about line play, and whether the Cougars can stand up defensively to UW’s punishing ground attack and whether BYU’s young, but growing offensive line and running backs can protect Taysom Hill long enough for the sophomore to do his thing.
But I also think Andersen is going to test BYU’s secondary. It appears that ace UW receiver Jared Abbrederis (sore ribs) will play after leaving last week’s win over Iowa in the third quarter. The Badgers will throw to the former walk-on a lot, and they’ve also got a great tight end.
For the Cougars to win, they also have to get a phenomenal game out of Hill — kind of like the Houston game, but without the turnovers.
Hill’s big turnaround was the topic of this story published earlier this week in the Tribune.
How is he handling the reversal of fortune, and all the accolades that have come with it?
"Look, I realize that I couldn’t do what I do without the guys around me, so that credit, a lot of it goes to our offensive line, and the guys on the outside, fighting to get open and making plays on the ball," he said. "I realize that, and I recognize that, so with that being said. It is an honor, it is a privilege and it is nice to be recognized for all those things but I realize that I can’t do it on my own."
A few more leftovers from and about Hill:
Hill on how defenses are playing him differently:
"I feel like a lot of it is pretty similar. We have been getting a lot of man looks and they will man us up and make sure they have somebody play what we call a spill player. But basically what it means is somebody to cover me if I pull and run, so we continue to see that.
But now what we are running into is they really don’t know what to do to stop our guys on the outside because they are 6-4, 6-5, and Mitch [Mathews] is 6-6, and so they are not easy to defend, so they try to play off and then we throw underneath routes and then they come and press and we throw over the top. That’s kinda the battle that we’ve seen so far and basically it just depends on the personnel that we are playing and how they try to stop us."
Quarterbacks coach Jason Beck on whether Hill has ideal mental makeup to flourish in this ystem:
"Yeah, he is a very level-headed guy. He doesn’t get caught up in nerves. He has started every game and comes out playing well. A lot of times, in the past, we have had to ease quarterbacks into it so they calm down and get into the game. But he’s really level-headed, really focused, either it is positive or negative. He just keeps the right mind frame and works hard and focuses on what he can control."
Beck on Hill seeming to get more comfortable in the pocket and as a pocket passer:
"That has been something the last couple of weeks that he has slowly been improving on. He’s moving in the pocket and keeping his eyes downfield and delivering the ball, versus when you are really getting pressure you just have to take off and get out of there. That’s something that is really hard for anybody, and takes time. He’s made some good improvements at that the past couple of weeks. And hopefully that continues.
That fine line of when to stay in the pocket, keep your feet set, eyes downfield, versus OK, I gotta get out of here and break contain and go make a play."
One of Hill’s best friends on the team, receiver Mitch Mathews, on his last five games:
"I don’t really feel like there has been a big turnaround with him. He’s obviously improved every single game, and he hasn’t digressed. That’s the type of personality he has, to get better every time he plays. We love that about him. We knew he had a great upside, and that’s what he’s starting to show, and it has been fun."
Mathews on whether success has changed Hill much:
"No, he’s always been even-keeled. That’s what I love about him, is that he’s always even-keeled and he is consistent. He doesn’t have practices where he goes crazy, or practices where he doesn’t care. He always cares, and he’s always hyped up and always expects a lot out of his receivers."
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