Provo • The number 6 was celebrated on Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium, as BYU retired Robbie Bosco’s, Marc Wilson’s and Luke Staley’s shared jersey number.

But it had other connotations, too.

As in: The Cougars were deep-6’ed. The Cougars were 6 feet under. The Cougars were 86’ed. Six degrees of separation between these teams seemed like 6 million.

Oh, and BYU scored 6 points, against Wisconsin’s 40.

Basically, the whole of it looked like a Buick station wagon rolling over a family of possum. Not what the Cougars had in mind.

“We were overwhelmed as a group,” Kalani Sitake said. “We couldn’t get anything going.”

The losing isn’t what killed them. It was something worse.

It was either an inability or unwillingness to fight back, and/or to muster much fight at all.

Exactly where the line is between those two varied distinctions is anybody’s guess. But it’s also easy to see how they are connected.

On this occasion, what the guys who suited and padded and hatted up for BYU had to have as their major objective, a major objective that could be described in numerous ways, was unusual. For once, for a singular game, in the rarest of circumstances, it wasn’t to win. Get real. It was to put their excuses away. It was to respect themselves. It was to be grown men. It was to play to their full-though-limited potential. It was to find some heart. It was to play the freaking game of football.

They were 0-for-6.

All those descriptions had been strangely absent over the Cougars’ first three games. Make it four. Not only had they lost two of those first three, the lone win coming against a Big Sky team, they also had stumbled all over themselves and, at times, embarrassed the program for which they play, particularly on the offensive side, the side of the ball for which the man whose name is on the building had made that name. And now, after scoring a total of 33 points in those earlier games, which back in Edwards’ day would have been a decent half, BYU faced a ranked opponent that never before had played in Provo.

Wisconsin showed up.

BYU did not.

Backup quarterback Beau Hoge filled in for the hurt Tanner Mangum, and, as a result, the Cougars switched things around a bit in their attack, sticking mostly to the ground in the early going. Then, trying to pass here and there. Nothing worked. Passing yards: 111. Rushing yards: 81.

Hoge threw an interception on his first pass. On his last pass attempt, he fumbled in the end zone, resulting in a safety.

It was another frustrating sputter for that offense, especially for the inexperienced Hoge. Running, quite literally, out of the shotgun, he squiggled and squirmed around in a manner in which the soundtrack from a Three Stooges short could have been played.

The quarterback woob-woob-woobed and nyuk-nyuk-nyuked his way around the backfield and sometimes blasted forward for a few yards. It was neither efficient, nor effective.

One such cluster of runs, mixed with Ula Tolutau carries, managed to level the score at 3 in the initial quarter.

And that was about the end of it.

BYU’s defense got punched and pounded.

In what must have been an offensive lineman’s dream, Wisconsin smashed and gashed the ball down the field, firing off up front and running and running again behind that crushing push for a touchdown and a 10-3 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The Badger attack pattern was set, the BYU defensive solution never found. Part of the problem was that Wisconsin could run (235 yards) and pass (256), as evidenced by a line-drive TD spiral from Alex Hornibrook to Quintez Cephus, stretching the count to 17-3 midway through the second quarter. Hornibrook duplicated the feat again just before the half, hitting Cephus for a 15-yard touchdown. Another TD pass near the end of the third quarter made it 31-6.

And … well, you get the idea.

Possum, meet a set of rolling Michelins.

Now the Cougars — coaches and players — must scrape themselves off the county two-lane and build whatever they can out of the first half of a season that has been entirely too ambitious and cruel for them, made more cruel by that nasty mix of inability and unwillingness, wherever the line is drawn.

“I’m disappointed,” Sitake said. “We wanted to see how we measured up. There’s the answer.”

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.