MADISON – Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook generally is considered unflappable on the field and unvarying during interviews.
Imagine a gallon of vanilla ice cream sans any toppings.
Yet one question after UW’s 24-21 loss to unranked BYU on Saturday evoked a moment of forceful candor from the redshirt junior quarterback.
How deflating can a game like this be early in the season?
“I don’t think it’s deflating at all,” Hornibrook responded. “I think it’s the exact opposite.”
“You’ve still got a whole season left,” Hornibrook continued. “I think that is just the way that everybody is wired in this locker room. A loss isn’t deflating. It’s not going to defeat you. …
“That is the wrong mindset if that’s how you’re looking at it.”
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Hornibrook’s message – echoed in varying degrees by several teammates – won’t do much to assuage the angst of fans in the wake of the loss to the Cougars, which sent UW tumbling in the national polls.
Yet the message was clear:
Yes, our goals included winning the Big Ten title, qualifying for the College Football Playoff and then winning it all.
No, one loss to BYU, no matter how surprising, alters that plan.
Senior offensive lineman Michael Deiter smiled when told about Hornibrook’s response.
“It makes sense to me,” he said. “To be told that you lost the game (so) is your mindset bad now?
“Is that really what you think we’re going to do? I guess you don’t know us that well.”
Nevertheless, UW (2-1) has issues to address as it prepares to face host Iowa (3-0) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Big Ten opener for both teams.
On defense, UW’s front seven struggled to contain BYU’s ground game and the pass rush was inconsistent.
Squally Canada’s 44-yard run to set up BYU’s first touchdown came with UW in a 2-4-5 scheme. His 46-yarder to set up the game-winning field goal came with UW in a 3-4-4 scheme.
Inside linebacker T.J. Edwards had a chance to limit Canada to a 2-yard gain on the first run but missed. It appeared linebacker Ryan Connelly was out of position on the 46-yard run, having flowed too far to the outside.
On offense, costly penalties, a critical interception by Hornibrook and only modest success on the ground resulted in too many empty possessions.
On special teams, the return units did little to provide a spark.
“Shooting yourself in the foot is going to cost you and it did today,” senior offensive lineman Michael Deiter said. “We’ve got to get better.”
Iowa, which has victories over Northern Illinois, Iowa State and Northern Iowa, appears to be the greatest threat to UW winning the West Division title for the third consecutive season.
The Hawkeyes, who parlayed a 10-6 victory UW in the 2015 league opener into the West Division title, have sputtered on offense but have been stout on defense through three games.
“We didn’t finish the game the way we wanted to,” Iowa outside linebacker Nick Niemann told reporters after the victory over Northern Iowa. “Gave up two significantly long drives. …Not too happy about that.”
UW’s offense generated 247 rushing yards and 382 total yards in a 38-14 victory over Iowa last season but the Hawkeyes forced four turnovers. Hornibrook saw two of his three interceptions returned for touchdowns and tailback Jonathan Taylor rushed for 157 yards on 29 carries but lost a fumble.
UW’s defense limited Iowa to five first downs, 66 total yards and no third-down conversions in 13 tries.
The three games this season have shown, however, that UW’s defense, with seven new starters, isn’t nearly as disruptive as the ’17 unit.
“It is Week 3,” UW wide receiver Kendric Pryor said when asked about the significance of the loss to BYU. “There is a lot of season left. We’re just going to use this loss as fuel for the fire when we come out next week.
“We’re going to be ready, locked in.”
If they aren’t, they’ll lose again.