The day that many BYU football players have circled on their calendars — Nov. 9, 2013 — since it was announced the Cougars would play a Big Ten team for the first time in 20 years is finally here.
BYU (6-2) tests No. 21 Wisconsin (6-2) at 1:30 p.m. MST (2:30 p.m. here in Madison) at 80,000-seat Camp Randall Stadium. School officials are expecting between 5,000 and 7,000 BYU fans to be in attendance today, not a bad showing considering Provo is 1,376 miles away.
Surely, a lot of the BYU fans here today live in the Midwest, and likely made the drive from another state or region. I was told that the traditional fireside held the night before games drew more than 1,000 folks last night, and was also beamed into a dozen or so other churches in Wisconsin.
The folks at the Marriott in Middleton added a nice touch for the Cougars, making up room keys (the electronic deals the shape of a driver’s license) with a BYU helmet on them.
At 10 a.m. here, about 4 1/2 hours before kickoff, skies are mostly cloudy and it is 49 degrees, with 15 mph winds. I think the wind is going to be a factor in the game, although both teams will look to establish the run.
Here’s my advance for today’s game as I call the contest a huge opportunity for BYU to make some noise on the national level. The guys on ESPN’s GameDay did a short segment on Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen, the former USU and Utah coach, and Desmond Howard picked BYU to win while the others went with the chalk. Wisconsin is between a 7- and 9-point favorite.
"It is going to take everything we have to beat these guys," BYU quarterback Taysom Hill said. "We made a push to score in every quarter against Boise State, which we did. Hopefully, our mindset is that we need to continue to build off of that. Every time we get in the red zone we are scoring touchdowns rather than resorting to field goals."
The Cougars spent the week in Provo preparing not only for the Badgers, but their loud, raucous crowd. Music and loud noises were pumped into the Indoor Practice Facility.
"It is going to be hard to mimic any sort of environment like that. But it gives us an idea," Hill said. "We have been in hostile environments as well before, and we played at Utah State this year. There were not as many people at Utah State as there will be at Wisconsin. But those guys don’t like us [in Logan]. So it was a hostile environment. We have been in situations like that, and we will be OK."
A few more comments from BYU players as they looked forward to the contest this week:
Hill on what kind of opportunities come with playing at Wisconsin:
"Being independent has given us a lot of opportunities to travel and see a lot of different venues and be in different environments. Going to Wisconsin and playing there gives us a great opportunity to make noise on the national level. They are ranked in the top 25, they have been a known program throughout the country. It will give us an opportunity to go into a hostile environment and show what we can do against a very good opponent."
Linebacker Spencer Hadley on whether the trip to Wisconsin gets him excited:
"Yeah, we are excited as a team, and as a defense especially. Any time you go into a place that is storied, if you will, a big-time college atmosphere, we are excited to go play and go show what we can do, give the game our best shot. It is going to be a physical game. They are a good opponent. If you can’t get excited for that, then ‘get out of here.’ You know what I mean?"
Hadley on Wisconsin having big linemen:
"Big bruisers, yeah. They have those this year as well. Yeah, so our scout team has tried to give us a good look, and been real physical. It is hard to replicate size like that. They are big boys, but we are not afraid."
BYU receiver Mitch Mathews on whether Cougars are ready for the atmosphere they expect to see at Camp Randall:
"We are, for sure. That’s what we do in practice, is we have those big speakers and noise so that it gets to the point where you can talk to one another. You have to go by signals. And that’s what we are doing to hone in on those this week.
They do have a crazy crowd, but for me personally, I love that. I love being able to go places and quiet the crowd. That’s a fun thing to do."
Defensive tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna on playing at Wisconsin:
"Ever since I saw them on our schedule, it is one of the games I have been keeping in mind. It is going to be a challenge, on a big stage, nationally televised. Probably one of the biggest games we are going to play this season.
It is a big challenge, but like I said before, we are always up for it."
Manumaleuna on the atmosphere they are preparing for:
"Man, we just blasted music into our practice just now. It is going to be a very loud environment. We hear about their fourth-quarter jump. It is going to be really loud and crazy. We need to keep our composure and stay focused."
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