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Lucas: Hornibrook’s heart evident in gritty win at Iowa


BY MIKE LUCAS Senior Writer

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin’s jumbo formation (7XL) called for the five starting offensive linemen plus the top two reserves to squeeze into the same huddle.

“You see a lot of beef,” observed guard Michael Deiter.

Ground and pound beef.

Besides Deiter (6-foot-6, 310 pounds), the personnel grouping has starters David Edwards (6-7, 315), Beau Benzschawel (6-6, 315), Tyler Biadasz (6-3, 319) and/or Jon Dietzen (6-6, 323), Cole Van Lanen (6-5, 311).

Joining the group at Iowa were Jason Erdmann (6-6, 325), wearing jersey No. 96 instead of his normal No. 78, and Logan Bruss (6-5, 303), wearing No. 89 instead of No. 60.

Quarterback Alex Hornibrook had one minor issue in the huddle.

“It was hard to see,” he said, grinning.

They dwarf everyone.

“But it’s fun and I like having those guys in there,” Hornibrook went on. “We all like the formation. We know what we’re doing and the Hawkeyes know what we’re doing, too.

“We’re pounding the ball.”

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Iowa had trouble holding up against the pounding after having allowed just 25 rushing yards over the previous two games and a total of 126 yards on the ground through its first three games combined. The locals were touting the senior-dominated defensive front as one of the most fearsome in the Big Ten.

But after running for 247 yards on 49 rushes in last season’s 38-14 rout of the Hawkeyes in Madison, the Badgers rushed 44 times for 210 yards in Saturday night’s come-from-behind 28-17 victory at raucous Kinnick Stadium, where they have now won five straight in the tug-of-war series.

Whether it was Jonathan Taylor going over 100 yards for the 14th time in 18 career games, Taiwan Deal averaging seven yards per rush on his six carries or Alec Ingold’s 33-yard touchdown in the closing seconds to seal the deal, the rushing attack was a storyline.

But, then, so was Hornibrook, who rallied the Badgers by completing 9 of 10 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. His only incompletion was a rare drop by tight end Jake Ferguson, who led the team with four catches for 58 yards, including his first career TD.

In upping his record to 23-4 as a starter, 17-2 in the Big Ten, 11-1 in road games and 9-0 when throwing for more than one score, Hornibrook was 17-of-22 for 205 yards overall. It was an impressive turnaround from the week before when he struggled at times in a home loss to BYU.

“I loved the way he competed,” said Wisconsin quarterbacks coach Jon Budmayr. “He stayed in the moment, he competed the whole night and he stepped up and made plays when we needed him to make plays.

“He played within himself and when it was time to move the chains on third down, he made some throws and the guys made plays around him.

“In normal down-and-distance, he did a good job of taking what was there and not making mistakes. He had a little zip on his passes. He was feeling good. He trusted where guys were going to be, and he cut it loose and didn’t think twice about what he was seeing. He trusted his eyes.”

His teammates placed a high level of trust in Hornibrook to handle the environment; one of the toughest road venues in college football marked by the tight sidelines and the AC/DC (“Back in Black”) and Metallica (“Enter Sandman”) musical backdrop for the Iowa players taking the field.

Moreover, the north end zone renovation has made it even louder by containing the sound.

“He (Hornibrook) was poised, he just played the game the way he usually plays,” said wide receiver A.J. Taylor, who caught the touchdown pass that put the Badgers ahead with 57 seconds remaining. “He was focused, he led us out there and he kept us going.”

“He was calm and confident like he always is,” said Deiter, a senior captain. “There was never any waver in him. If it’s going bad, he’s confident. If it’s going good, he has the same confident mindset. It’s nice when you look around (when the noise amps up at Kinnick), you have a quarterback who’s fine.”

“The kid is composed,” said Ingold, a former Hornibrook roommate. “He’s a guy that you can count on from week to week. He’s a competitive leader. That’s what you want in your quarterback, a competitor. As loud as it gets (on the road), he’s the composed one on the field.”

It’s part of his off-the-field demeanor, too.

The first thing he did after the game was credit his offensive line.

“They did a huge job for me,” said Hornibrook, who was sacked just once (Iowa was among the national leaders in sacks with 12). “There were a lot of plays where I could take my three-step or five-step throw and hitch a couple of times. I had a lot of time.”

As far as dealing with the crowd noise, Hornibrook said, “We had a cadence that helped us out, so we didn’t have to fight it. And it really doesn’t make a difference in how you’re playing unless you let it. We didn’t think too much of it.”

On a game-defining 10-play, 88-yard drive culminating with Hornibrook’s 17-yard scoring pass to A.J. Taylor that pushed the Badgers into the lead, he was 5-for-5 with two completions to Kendric Pryor for 5 and 28 yards; one to Garrett Groshek for 5; one to Ferguson for 12 and the last one to Taylor.

“It was all about how we responded,” said Hornibrook when asked if losing the previous Saturday had motivated him. “I felt confident making throws and I felt confident that the guys would give me time and the guys would get open and that’s what we did.”

A year ago in Madison, Hornibrook was guilty of three interceptions against the Hawkeyes, two of which were returned for touchdowns by cornerback Josh Jackson, now starting for the Green Bay Packers. Did Budmayr go over that tape with Hornibrook before Saturday’s rematch?

“No, because we already learned from it and put it to bed,” Budmayr said. “That Sunday (following the game) we talked about them (the picks), ‘What happened here?’ We addressed it, and it was something that he put in his tool box. It’s knowledge gained.”

Budmayr doesn’t shy away from having that “talk” with Hornibrook. But it’s two-way.

“We have tons of conversations,” said Budmayr, a former Badgers quarterback whose career was shortened because of injuries. “You always want to identify, ‘Why did the interception happen?’ You want to eliminate them, you want to minimize them. But we tell our quarterbacks, ‘Do what you’ve trained yourself to do. Trust your preparation.’

“If they come up, we’ll talk about them and move on.”

Hornibrook, like any QB in the spotlight, is open to intense scrutiny.

People like to think they know everything about him.

What don’t they know?

“He’s got a big-time heart,” Budmayr said. “He’s one of the more unique people I’ve ever met in the sense that he’s very focused and detailed to every task that he does, but there’s not a time where he’s not thinking of others, and I think that’s a special trait.

“He’s constantly trying to make himself better. But through making himself better, the focus is always on making the team better, making those around him better, and he applies it every day.”

Like he did Saturday under the bright lights of Kinnick.

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