Provo • Beau Hoge is accustomed to big stages and bright spotlights, having grown up watching his father, Merril, play eight combined seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears and then provide NFL analysis on television for ESPN.
But none of that could have prepared BYU’s backup quarterback for what he will experience Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium as the Cougars play host to a Big Ten team for the first time in Provo, the No. 10 Wisconsin Badgers. Hoge will make his first career start in the place of junior Tanner Mangum, out for at least a month with an ankle injury.
The redshirt sophomore was not made available to the media this week, but he did talk to reporters during August’s training camp when he was in a competition with Koy Detmer Jr. to be Mangum’s backup.
“I’m ready to take on whatever role the coaches need me to take on,” he said. “Big or small.”
Well, this is certainly a big one.
Not only is Wisconsin the first top-10 team to visit LES since 2012, the Badgers are 30th in the country in total defense and 21st in total offense and were bumped from a 14-point favorite to a 17-point favorite as news leaked out that Hoge will replace Mangum.
And the far more experienced Mangum, Cougar fans know all too well, was having all kinds of trouble himself moving the BYU offense until the final few minutes in last week’s 19-13 loss to Utah. The Cougars rank 124th out of 129 teams in the country in total offense.
In his only meaningful playing time as a freshman in 2015, Hoge was inserted into a game against East Carolina after Mangum tweaked a hamstring. Hoge looked shaky and barely glanced downfield before tucking the ball and running. He produced three straight three-and-out possessions, while also throwing an interception.
And that BYU offense was far better than the 2017 iteration, albeit against lesser competition than what Mangum and his mates have faced in LSU and Utah.
Although BYU offensive coordinator Ty Detmer said Wednesday that “nothing changes with our offense” if a QB other than Mangum is in there Saturday, the Cougars will almost undoubtedly try to use Hoge’s strengths as a runner, much in the mold of former QB Taysom Hill.
The Cougars, who rank 118th in the country with a paltry 76.3 yards per game on the ground, may try to out-Wisconsin Wisconsin, which ranks 14th at 295.5 rushing yards per game.
Freshman running back Ula Tolutau, a former Wisconsin signee, will see his workload increased after rushing five times for 25 yards and a touchdown against Utah. But the Badgers are allowing just 95.5 rushing yards a game, having faced Utah State and Florida Atlantic.
Tolutau said he is finally healthy after being banged up in camp, and can handle 10-15 carries if needed. Junior Trey Dye is also working his way up the depth chart at running back and could see more playing time, coaches have said.
“That’s the game plan every week,” Detmer said. “We want to try to run the ball. But again, they are a solid front, and they are solid in the secondary. You don’t get to be No. 10 by having a hole or weakness somewhere that people can exploit.
“We gotta be sharp and go in with the right game plan and execute it,” Detmer continued.
Even then, that might not be enough if the BYU defense, a bend-but-don’t-break outfit through three games, can’t slow down UW freshman Jonathan Taylor, who is averaging 8.8 yards per carry. Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook isn’t the kind of mobile QB who has given BYU fits in the past, but is efficient, accurate, and rarely makes mistakes. He threw for 201 yards against FAU.
“I believe their running back [Taylor] went for 200 [yards] last week, and another one went for 100,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake. “So, that kind of tells you what they hang their hat on. It is going to be a slugfest in the trenches. We are looking forward to the matchup and looking forward to redeeming ourselves from the last two weeks.”
With a backup quarterback making his first start for a struggling offense against one of the best teams in the country.
Yeah, good luck with that.
No. 10 Wisconsin at BYU
At LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
Kickoff • 1:30 p.m.
TV • ABC
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius XM 143
Records • BYU 1-2, Wisconsin 2-0
Series history • Tied, 1-1
Last meeting • Wisconsin 27, BYU 17 (Nov. 9, 2013)
About the Badgers • Coach Paul Chryst and BYU’s Kalani Sitake are among 21 FBS head coaches who are coaching at their alma mater. … They will be the first Big Ten team to ever play a game in Provo. … They are 17-4 in regular-season nonconference games since 2012, but are 0-2 in said away games. … Freshman RB Jonathan Taylor is averaging 8.86 yards per carry in wins over Utah State and Florida Atlantic. … QB Alex Hornibrook has thrown for 446 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.
About the Cougars • This is their 1,000th game in program history. They are 565-408-26 since 1922. … They are hosting their first top-10 opponent since No. 10 Oregon State visited in 2012. … They are 124th in the NCAA in total offense, averaging just 231.7 yards per game. They are also 124th in scoring, averaging just 11.0 points per game. … TE Matt Bushman is 71st in receiving yards, with 149.