Dienhart: A star is born in Wisconsin QB Alex Hornibrook
EAST LANSING, Mich. — A star was born today. His name? Alex Hornibrook. Remember it.
The Wisconsin redshirt freshman quarterback played with the pluck and aplomb of a veteran, piercing a proud Michigan State defense for 195 yards on 16-of-26 passing with a touchdown and interception in a 30-6 demolition of defending Big Ten champ Michigan State. It was a shocking and unexpected evisceration.
How bad was it for the No. 8 Spartans? This was MSU’s most lopsided defeat at Spartan Stadium since falling 42-14 to Penn State in 2009. Not bad for a guy in Hornibrook who was making the first start of his career.
This was complete and absolute domination by No. 11 Wisconsin, which moved to 4-0 and maybe into position of “Big Ten West” favorite. After dumping No. 5 LSU in the opener, Wisconsin now has two wins over AP top 10 teams in the same season for the first time since 1964. Don’t you get the feeling this may be a special season for Wisconsin?
Credit Hornibrook. No, he didn’t post numbers that would make a fantasy football dork drool. Rather, it was Hornibrook’s cool and calm in a hostile environment that impressed on a day when Wisconsin’s vaunted ground game netted just 122 yards on 41 totes (3.0 ypc) with Corey Clement running 23 times for 54 yards and two scores. The guy has an uncanny touch—and he hit some big passes in big moments. None was bigger (or prettier) than a 31-yard hook up with Jazz Peavy on a third-and-eight midway through the third quarter that kept a drive alive and led to a field goal and a 23-6 lead.
“We know what we can do and we feel pretty good, and we feel pretty good with our team,” Hornibrook said. “I was glad with the way we played today.”
This was the largest margin of victory in a road game over a ranked team for UW since a 42-17 victory at Ohio State in 1999. That, coincidentally was the first start for freshman Brooks Bollinger, who is a guy some are comparing to Hornibrook.
This was just the beginning for the Badgers, as this was the start of a rugged five-game stretch of games. Up next: a game at Michigan. That’s followed by a visit from Ohio State, a game at Iowa and a visit from Nebraska. Back in August, that looked like a dooming collection of games. Now? Heck, maybe the Badgers can win them all—or at least go 4-1 or 3-2.
If Wisconsin emerges from October with a 6-1 or 5-2 mark, credit Hornibrook. The kid committed to Paul Chryst when the Badger boss was at Pitt. When Chryst bolted for Madison, Hornibrook followed—lucky for Chryst and Wisconsin.
The 6-4, 219-pound Hornibrook lost a training camp battle with Bart Houston to win the job to replace Joel Stave. But with Houston firing blanks and the Wisconsin offense floundering last week at home to Georgia State, Houston got the hook and Hornibrook took over. He came off the bench late in the third quarter for struggling Houston and completed 8-of-12 passes for 122 yards with a touchdown and interception to help the Badgers avoid an upset to Georgia State by leading UW on three scoring drives in the second half.
Wisconsin kept news of who would start this game under wraps most of the week. Now, there is no secret or no question as to who will command the Badger ship moving forward: Hornibrook.
Credit also must be given to the Wisconsin defense. Entering the season, concern loomed for a unit that saw coordinator Dave Aranda leave for the same job at LSU. The college football cognoscenti felt Aranda was the best assistant in the Big Ten. How would his departure impact the Badgers?
No impact at all, as UW entered today with the No. 1 overall defense in the Big Ten and the No. 2 scoring defense with new coordinator Justin Wilcox.
Wilcox came from USC and has been brilliant with a unit led by a boffo front seven. He hasn’t altered the 3-4 base scheme that Aranda employed, but Wilcox has added his own tweaks, twists and turns. And it has been impressive. On this day, the Badgers held the Spartans to just two field goals and 325 yards. And MSU ran for just 75 yards on 27 carries (2.8 ypc). Best of all: Wisconsin forced four turnovers. So, against LSU and Michigan State, the Badgers allowed just 20 points, 201 yards rushing and forced seven turnovers.
What’s next for Michigan State? QB Tyler O’Connor had a rough day, hitting just 18-of-38 passes for 224 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. And LJ Scott had only 61 yards on 14 carries.
“People have been saying a lot of good things about us lately,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “And now we’ll take some shots.”
Wisconsin can take a bow … and start dreaming big.