This likely wasn’t the season Alex Hornibrook envisioned.
The University of Wisconsin quarterback suffered injuries that kept him out of three and a half games and may have hampered him in others. His passing statistics — completion percentage, yards per game and per attempt, touchdown-to-interception ratio and others — dipped from his sophomore year. The offense he was tasked with leading, lauded as potentially one of the best in school history, fell flat and regressed from the Badgers’ 13-1 season in 2017 despite the return of 10 starters.
To cap it off, Hornibrook turned the ball over three times in the second half of a 37-15 loss to rival Minnesota, UW’s worst home loss to the Golden Gophers in 82 years.
“You always expect to succeed, expect to do as good as you can,” Hornibrook said. “So obviously it didn’t happen the way that we thought it would. … I think there’s definitely a lot of adversity that we’ve faced as a team and that I’ve faced individually. You can’t get disappointed from that kind of stuff or dwell on it. You’ve got to use it to your advantage, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Hornibrook has one more opportunity to end his season on a high note when the Badgers face Miami’s top-ranked passing defense in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 27 at Yankee Stadium in New York City.
He enters the game having completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 1,532 yards with 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in nine games.
While the junior’s not harping on the failures of this season, offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said it’s only natural to lose some confidence under the circumstances.
“I think anytime when you’re not feeling good, I think that affects anyone,” Rudolph said, referring to Hornibrook’s injury issues this season. “When you’re not feeling like yourself, it’s hard to have that type of confidence that you want to have, you know what I mean? And I think he would tell you, I think anyone would tell you that. When you don’t feel good, there’s just questions in your own mind.”
Hornibrook missed extended time over the final month of the regular season with a head injury, and the quarterback confirmed Thursday that he dealt with a back issue earlier this season.
He answered questions about his head injury by saying he was “just going to talk about football stuff” but also said both his back and head injuries may have affected his play on the field this year.
According to a UW official, Hornibrook only suffered one head injury this season. He missed the Northwestern game Oct. 27 before being cleared to play against Rutgers the following week. Just prior halftime against the Scarlet Knights, he “exasperated the symptoms of the initial injury.” Hornibrook went on to sit out the second half against Rutgers and miss games at Penn State and Purdue before returning against Minnesota.
“He’s fought through a number of different things,” Chryst said. “And I think when you say what’s your takeaway, I think that’s a big part of it. He hasn’t had that, certainly to this extent, and so how you go through that, and you take a lot of bits and pieces from games and you can evaluate it and look at it. … I think there’s times where he has been (better than last year), and then there’s times where, for different reasons, not as well.”
Hornibrook played one of the best games of his career against Miami in last year’s Orange Bowl, when he completed 23-of-34 passes for 258 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions — a performance that guided many of the high expectations for this year’s offense.
His final offseason at UW, however, may involve a quarterback competition for the first time since his redshirt freshman year in 2016. Hornibrook was asked Thursday if he’s confident that this is still his team and he’ll remain the starter heading into his senior season in 2019.
“I never really thought about any of that stuff,” Hornibrook said. “I’m going to work as hard as I can and see what I need to improve over the offseason. But that’s never really a thought or a concern for me.”