With Alex Hornibrook at the helm, Wisconsin football is going to be just fine.
I don’t know why Alex Hornibrook can’t hit Danny Davis in stride, or why he pump fakes downfield when he has Jonathan Taylor wide open in the flat, or why he throws into double coverage with no receivers within five yards of his pass.
I do know that he is 25-5 as a starter, that he is able to complete passes in extremely tight windows, and that he has put the Badgers on his back several times, as he did in the 2017 Orange Bowl against a stout Miami defense and this season at Iowa.
The 2018 Badgers are not what many expected, a National Championship contender. Rather, they appear to be the 9 or 10 (possibly 11?) win team that has become mundane to the Badger faithful. The preseason zeitgeist was that Hornibrook, equipped with electric receivers, a burly offensive line, and coming off his best ever performance, would take a big step forward and become a nationally admired starting quarterback. The preseason zeitgeist was wrong, and that is disappointing.
But we are not at DEFCON 1, as many felt after a bruising Michigan loss. This is because Alex Hornibrook, for all his blemishes, is really not a terrible quarterback. In fact, he is easily the best quarterback Wisconsin has had since Russell Wilson.
True, the list of nominees that Alex Hornibrook surpassed to earn that title is a yucky one. But let’s not forget that Joel Stave is actually the winningest quarterback in Badger history, and the eye test dictates that Hornibrook is of far superior ability. Indeed, one can usually watch a Hornibrook game and think “wow, nice pass” at least a few times per game, a thought inconceivable since the glory days of Russ.
The biggest problem this season is not on offense, but rather that the defense is no longer elite. Over the last few seasons, Wisconsin has had a top 5 defense in the country, one that was menacing to opposing rushers and passers alike. This season, the secondary, though noticeably better the past two weeks, is still inexperienced and mistake-prone, and at times porous. The front seven has an unfortunate penchant for missing tackles. Heart is never the problem for Wisconsin’s defensive unit, but execution often is.
Still, the Badgers are 5-2, and remaining on the slate is a cupcake game their rivals (doormat), Minnesota and a chalk game against Rutgers. With winnable matches against Purdue and Northwestern and an intriguing contest in Happy Valley, this season has the makings of a successful one, one in which Alex Hornibrook is sufficient to state fans’ desire for a bowl win against a competent opponent if insufficient to keep National Championship hopes alive.
The Graham Mertz era is around the corner. It is palpable. But for now, let’s appreciate winning ball games. And let’s appreciate that Alex Hornibrook has never lost by 29 points to Purdue or 31 points to Iowa.