MADISON, Wis. — BYU loved having a bye week, getting healthy.
It didn't last long.
Wisconsin's physical play, amid a Camp Randall backdrop of stealthy midwestern cold, helped to produce three critical Cougar injuries Saturday.
All of them occurred in the first half, affecting BYU's game plan and success in myriad ways.
Spencer Hadley, a senior linebacker, was lost on the game's first drive with a knee injury.
Receiver Mitch Mathews hurt his shoulder while diving for a catch.
Devin Mahina hurt his groin severe enough to miss the rest of the game after hauling in a pass and getting hammered near his team's sideline early in the 27-17 defeat.
Hadley's absence may have been felt the most, even as he previously missed a few games for an honor code suspension.
"Spencer's one of the best players on our team," BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
More succinctly, BYU had a defensive substitution package that featured Hadley against some of Wisconsin's bigger personnel sets.
"It was no longer possible," Mendenhall said. "But that's football. We still had opportunities to win and play well after that, but it hurt."
Wisconsin piled up 229 rushing yards on 45 carries, an efficient average of 5.1 on every handoff. Conversely, BYU had trouble moving the ball.
Mathews had been one of the team's most favored targets for sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill.
His presence may have helped the Cougars take advantage of some man-press defense they usually like to attack with the height of tall targets like Hoffman and Mathews, among others.
Though Hill conceded that a swirling wind inside the 80,000-seat stadium — which sets in the middle of two rivers — made it difficult to get the kind of appropriate loft on his passes to make Wisconsin's aggressive defenders pay.
∫Speaking of Hoffman: The BYU senior finished the historical trifecta at UW.
He's now the school's all-time yardage leader for pass catchers. He pushed past Austin Collie. His third-quarter touchdown catch (34 yards) helped him push through the final key record-book barrier.
He set the career touchdowns and receptions mark in previous games this season.
Hoffman has 32 touchdowns in a career that started incredibly unheralded. He grew up in northern California and was hardly recruited, expecting to go to Sacramento State until a connection was found with Mendenhall.
Hoffman redshirted his freshman year (2009) and now goes down as one of the greats.
Against UW, he caught his third touchdown pass this year that also came with defensive pass interference. Hill lofted the ball perfectly along the left sideline. Hoffman handled the contact, and the ball, with his typical in-play strength and grace.
"Wisconsin, like everyone, has a hard time covering him," Mendenhall said. "And there were a few plays that were out there that were penalties that weren't called, because they were trying to cover him. But he's very good and he's meant a lot to our program."
Added Hill: "That kid will catch anything that's thrown to him."
Good turnout: BYU had 2,500 allotted tickets and sold all of them at UW, though an estimated 7,000 in blue dotted Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers' home holds about 80,000 fans. UW athletic director Barry Alvarez told the Daily Herald earlier in the week that he sought out a late non-conference opponent to play at home a few years ago.
UW and Purdue moved a game scheduled for this weekend to earlier in the season, freeing up the Cougars' chances to take their game to the midwest — where they'll visit in a couple of weeks again with a second consecutive year checking out Notre Dame.
Perfect 10: UW coach Gary Andersen finished his 10th consecutive year of playing BYU. He's He went 1-3 against BYU while leading Utah State (2009-12) and a combined 6-5 during two stints at Utah. That made him 4-5 entering this game.
Andersen has quipped that he thought that it was supposed to say "Bye," not BYU, on the schedule when he took the job last winter.
Extra points: BYU punter Scott Arellano had a career-best 73-yard punt to Wisconsin's 8 late in the third quarter. His previous tops was 59 yards. ...Jim Hermann ran out the alumni flag for BYU; Skyler Ridley (team) and Chris Badger (special teams) handled the flag-bearer duties for the active group. ...A special guest was Breaker Mendenhall, one of Bronco's three sons, who helped to lead the Cougars onto the field before kickoff. He also sat nearby as dad did post-game interviews. ...Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey was among the pro scouts watching the game from the press box. ...Sophomore UW kicker Jack Russell made a 36-yard field goal late in the second quarter, producing a 10-3 Badgers lead on his first college conversion. ...Attendance was announced as 80,191.