With the completion of Saturday’s spring game/scrimmage, Hornibrook continued his impressive streak of positive performances over the second half of fall camp, throwing touchdown passes of 46 and 43 yards to George Rushing, floating a ball on the left sideline to reserve wide receiver Peter Roy for a 37-yard gain and completed 50 percent of his passes.
Even so, head coach Paul Chryst, like the two signal callers in contention to lead the Wisconsin offense, knows it was just one glorified practice.
“(Alex) did some good things today, and I think he's done some good things in most of the practices we've had, every practice,” Chryst said, emphasizing that Hornibrook hasn’t played a game yet and Saturday did count. “I thought he had poise, and the one thing that Alex does is he's an accurate deep ball passer. He gives nice a chance to make a play, so I think he had some good plays today, certainly, but this is one of 15, and it's April.”
It’s been a back-and-forth spring in the competition between Hornibrook and Houston, both looking to replace a four-year starter in Joel Stave, who accumulated 31 wins in his time at UW. Certain days Houston, who has the lone in-game experience out of the two, has shown precision and been the better quarterback.
More recently Hornibrook has started to show the potential that jumped him ahead of fellow class of 2015 commit Austin Kafentzis last spring (Kafentzis later transferred to Nevada). Knowing one practice won’t necessarily stifle their chances of being named the starter, Chryst has allowed both to test their limits and focus on their self-improvement, regardless of where they might stand on the depth chart.
“We’ve been competing the entire spring,” Hornibrook said. “Coach Chryst likes like to focus on the individual more than the whole competition aspect, but I’m just focused on my own development throughout the spring.”
Having been around Hornibrook for the last three semesters, Houston has seen a big jump in his progression over the last 15 practices.
“He really came along with the playbook,” Houston said, who completed 22-of-33 passes for 232 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in UW’s 24-13 win at Illinois last season. “He’s starting to get it, not just throw (to) the first guy on the read every time. He’s starting to get through them.”
Houston admitted that he’s continued to improve his ability to read defenses - not to make a decision too fast or too slow through his passing progressions. He completed 7-of-13 passes for 73 yards, and made the right read on that deep ball to Rushing that was a few yards off from being the answer to Hornibrook’s aerial attack.
Regardless, he’s heeded the advice given by one of his former offensive coordinators in this most recent quarterback competition.
“[Andy] Ludwig said it the best: ‘Don’t count your reps, make your reps count,’” Houston declared. “I wholeheartedly dove into spring with that mentality.”
Chryst believes both took advantage of the spring schedule and the weeks of extra practice. With four-plus months left until the season opener in Green Bay, against a top-tier program in LSU with a familiar face in defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, more will be demanded out of the two in a competition that could go well deep into fall camp in late August.
“I told them the other day, we're not where we want to be, but I don't think they're behind schedule. With that being said, I think -- and I think this is for our whole team -- we've got to have a great summer and be ready to go, and we've truly got to take advantage of fall camp and those 29 practice opportunities before we open up, but I think both Alex and Bart did do a lot this spring, and with that I think they've grown.”
“I think they're in a good spot, but we've got a ways to go.”