Provo • In BYU’s brutal September slate, the Cougars defense could be counted on for stout play in one phase or the other.

Against LSU, BYU surrendered 294 yards rushing, but held quarterback Danny Etling to only 173 yards. The Utah game reversed that trend, the Cougars holding the Utes running backs to a cumulative 33 yards while surrendering 300 through the air to Tyler Huntley.

Saturday against Wisconsin, however, the BYU defense struggled to plug gaps or hold down the Badgers’ passing attack.

“When our defense isn’t playing great, there’s the result, 40 to 6,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “We’ve got a long ways to go, but we’ve got a lot of season to play.”

Coming into the game in Provo, Wisconsin sophomore passer Alex Hornibrook had completed 61 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and 445 yards. He hung 256 yards and four touchdowns on the BYU secondary while completing a staggering 18 of 19 passes — setting a Wisconsin school record.

Sitake said Hornibrook’s success came down to the simple reality of Wisconsin’s wide receivers beating the Cougars corners and the Badgers’ play-action options slowing down the BYU pass rush.

“What they do effectively is that they run the ball, so their play action holds the D-linemen a little bit at the line of scrimmage and then they have a little bit more time,” Sitake said. “The quarterback is comfortable throwing and moving the ball.”

To help set up Wisconsin’s play-action passing success, the Badgers bludgeoned BYU’s defensive front with 235 rushing yards behind freshman running back Jonathan Taylor’s 128-yard effort and 7.1 yards per rush average.

BYU linebacker Butch Pau’u said Wisconsin’s running backs exploited small creases for big runs behind a strong effort from the Badgers offensive line.

“I got beat, a lot of the guys on the defense got beat,” Pau’u said. “It’s a matter of us just getting back to the basics.”

After the Wisconsin offense put up 40, Sitake was asked if he took offense to the Badgers not kneeling down to seal the game on the offense’s final drive.

“If anything, I’m glad that that last series happened, so our D-line could get hit in the mouth every once and a while,” Sitake said. “Just hold up and try to hold your own. You don’t get a free pass in this game, and we’re not looking for a free pass.”