MADISON – The final nonconference test turned out to be more than the University of Wisconsin bargained for.
Despite being heavy favorites, the ninth-ranked team in the country saw its suddenly injury-plagued offense struggle and its stout defense leak in the second half, forcing them to register a come-from-behind 23-17 victory over Georgia State Saturday that was too close for comfort from start to finish.
Wisconsin (3-0) survived thanks to redshirt quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who replaced senior Bart Houston in the third quarter. Hornibrook led both touchdown drives for the UW offense, including throwing the game-winning strike to tight end Kyle Penniston.
Driving the offense 59 yards in eight plays, Hornibrook went 3-for-3 for 41 yards on the drive, finishing the day 8-for-12 for 122 passing yards
Entering the week as the worst rush defense in college football, giving up close to 400 yards per game, Georgia State (0-2) held the Badgers to only 187 yards, as UW delivered next to nothing with Corey Clement (ankle) missing the game and backup tailback Taiwan Deal (right leg) and tight end Troy Fumagalli (right leg) being injured in the first quarter.
Wisconsin dominated the stat sheet in the first half, outgaining the visitors 201-86, and putting all five of its drives in Panthers territory, the Badgers could only come away with six points. That ignited the Panthers coming out of the locker room.
Creating big busts in the Wisconsin secondary with gains of 38, 40, 20 and 60, Georgia State – 33-point underdogs coming into the game – scored on three consecutive drives to take a 17-13 lead. It was at that point the UW marching band decided to play Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.” It evidently was answered.
Sitting at 3-0 for the first time since its 2011 Big Ten championship season, Wisconsin will open conference play at No.12 Michigan State next week.
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No.9 Wisconsin 23, Georgia State 17
15 plays, 52 yards, 7:40 TOP, 7:20 left
FG Rafael Gaglianone 41
Key Play: Although Wisconsin is going to go heavy on the run game, the Badgers kept their drive alive with the pass. On third-and-10, Bart Houston hit tight end Troy Fumagalli (who else?) for 11 yards to the Georgia State 40. UW also smartly gambled on fourth-and-inches at the Georgia State 30, getting a 1-yard rush by Taiwan Deal.
10 plays, 58 yards, 5:09 TOP, :50 left
FG Rafael Gaglianone 41
Key Play: On a third-and-6 from the Georgia State 40, Bart Houston rolled to his right and hit George Rushing, who manage to have his feet in bounds just past the first-down marker at the GSU 33.
10 plays, 49 yards, 4:25 TOP, 6:00 left
FG Rogier ten Lohuis 45
Key Play: Conner Manning and all-conference receiver Robert Davis got the better of Sojourn Shelton on a go route along the sideline, as Shelton's trouble locating the ball led to a 38-yard gain to the UW 34.
6 plays, 69 yards, 2:56 TOP, 2:56 left
Dare Ogunbowale 2-yard run (Rafael Gaglianone kick)
Key Play: A change at quarterback ignited Wisconsin's offense, as Alex Hornibrook completed passes of 29 and 19 on his only two throws, the latter of which got UW to the GSU 21.
6 plays, 75 yards, 2:39 TOP, :19 left
Robert Davis 13-yard pass from Conner Manning (Rogier ten Lohuis kick)
Key Play: With Wisconsin sitting back in coverage, at the first down marker, Glenn Davis cut across the middle of the field wide open, caught the pass in stride and used his speed to turn the play upfield for a 40-yard gain along the UW sideline to the Badgers 34.
17-13 Georgia State
3 plays, 68 yards, 1:06 TOP, 11:36 left
Kyler Neal 9-yard run (Rogier ten Lohuis kick)
Key Play: Wisconsin's three best secondary players - Derrick Tindal, D'Cota Dixon and Sojourn Shelton - all had a chance to bring Glenn Smith before his 60-yard catch advanced to the UW 9. Needless to say, they missed.
8 plays, 59 yards, 4:03 TOP, 7:25 left
Kyle Penniston 1-yard pass from Alex Hornibrook (Rafael Gaglianone kick)
Key Play: After committing two critical drops on consecutive plays earlier in the game, Kyle Penniston hauled in the biggest catch of his young career, a contested 29-yard catch to get UW to the Georgia State 12.
7 plays, 19 yards, 2:17 TOP, 3:36 left
FG Rafael Gaglianone 41
Key Play: Given good field position with a Jazz Peavy punt return, Hornibook got UW closer into field goal range with a 14-yard completion to Rob Wheelwright on third-and-7 to the GSU 25.
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