Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst made sure to say in his post game comments that all the problems suffered on offense weren’t because of quarterback Bart Houston. However it was evident that Houston never was in a rhythm and the offense suffered because of it.
Alex Hornibrook worked behind the same offensive line and still had the same cast of characters as Houston but his ability to move the offense down the field was critical to Wisconsin escaping with the win. He threw the ball accurately, kept the offense moving and showed poise beyond what a redshirt freshman should be.
“I’m not a big loud mouthed guy,” Hornibrook said. “I’m just going to go try and make plays.”
His 29-yard throw to tight end Kyle Penniston was perfectly placed and the redshirt freshman receiver made a good play on the ball when he went up and over the Georgia State defender. Later in the drive, Hornibrook sold a tailback dive and hit Penniston for a 1-yard touchdown. The lefty made the throw rolling out to his right look easy.
He also made sure to pick up teammate who made mistakes to encourage them and to make sure they knew he was still looking for them in the offense. He even did that when he was still the backup.
Hornibrook said the biggest difference between the first and second half was that the Badgers were finishing the drives and “leaving out the small mistakes that were holding us back.” He was the big reason for that.
Sources indicate that Chryst and Wisconsin will give Hornibrook a chance with the start against Michigan State Saturday. He’s earned it.
Without Corey Clement or Taiwan Deal, Wisconsin’s running game lacked the same type of spark it did through the first two weeks of the season, looking more like the running attack from a season ago.
While he finished with 62 yards, Bradrick Shaw’s fumble inside the 5-yard line wasn’t the result of a redshirt freshman trying to make a play as much as it was a strong hit by a linebacker who has a knack for creating fumbles. Even so, it’s a play that can’t happened.
Dare Ogunbowale finished strong with runs of 19 and his touchdown run to give him a team-high 65 yards but continues to struggle with the majority of runs up the middle. He averaged only 3.3 yards on his 20 carries. Take out that 19 yard run and his yards per carry drops to 2.4.
Deal ran seven times for 34 yards on UW's first drive before his injury. That 4.9 yards per carry represented a team high for players who had multiple carries.
Rob Wheelwright’s four catches were a team high but his 11-yard catch in traffic jump started the game-winning drive. Jazz Peavy somehow sneaking out into the left flat created a wide-open throw for Hornibrook and a 29-yard gain, getting the offense and the quarterback moving forward.
Kudos to Penniston, who stepped in a tough situation in replace of Troy Fumagalli and shook off two second-quarter drops for two big catches in the game-winning fourth quarter drive.
Wheelwright, Peavy and Penniston were all targeted six times.
Twice in three games George Rushing has had a hand in a critical turnover. How many more chances will he get?
Other than the injury problems at left guard, Wisconsin’s offensive line continues to remain healthy. Center Michael Deiter said Georgia State ran “some good defensive schemes” against them, putting an extra defender in the box to slow the run. It was pretty basic, he said, but effective because there were few deep hits in the passing game early.
“Sometimes it just doesn’t go certain days, and you’ve got to find other ways,” Deiter said. “You never be surprise when (you can’t run the ball).”
UW averaged only 3.8 yards per rush but the protection was good, only giving up one sack.
“We have a lot to grow on,” right guard Beau Benzschawel said. “They threw us a lot of stuff we have to improve on. It helps us get better on it as an offensive line and as an offense.”
Georgia State was not a strong running team and the Badgers made sure its problems continued. Save for the 9-yard touchdown by Kyler Neal in the fourth quarter, Wisconsin had no big busts, didn’t allow a gain of over 10 yards and held Georgia State to 1.4 yards on its 24 carries (net 33 yards).
Sophomore inside linebacker T.J. Edwards made his first start of the season and delivered with a team-high 11 tackles, pairing nicely with junior Jack Cichy (eight tackles). UW needs both of those players to stay healthy for the defense to be dominant.
With Manning and the offense employing quick throws on slants, outside backers Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt were avoided few opportunities to get to the quarterback. As a result only Watt was able to register a quarterback hurry or a sack.
“He was getting the ball out a lot quicker, wasn’t giving us many opportunities and it was a lot of three-step drops,” Watt said. “We’ve got to get our hands up and make an impact.”
Hard to fault a group for not making plays when few plays could be made.
Wisconsin’s secondary was on its way to an ‘A’ until the third quarter began. In the three series after halftime, Georgia State’s passing attack and scheme hit the Badgers with pass plays of 38, 40, 20, 13 and 60 yards in a span of three series after halftime, all resulting in scores to give the Panthers a lead.
The completions were the result of poor angles or tackling and the entire group was to blame.
Safety Leo Musso likely could have halted a 40-yard crossing route at 15 yards if he approached the ball better, cornerback Sojourn Shelton twice got beat on double moves and cornerback Derrick Tindal gave up the only passing touchdown.
On the 60-yard pass play that set up Georgia State’s go-ahead touchdown, three secondary players missed (Tindal at the Panthers’ 38, D’Cota Dixon at midfield and Shelton at the UW 38).
To the credit of Tindal and Shelton, both players made big plays on Georgia State’s final drive to squelch the comeback.
“It was very important,” Shelton said of bouncing back. “At that point in the game, everybody’s looking around because somebody has to make a play. In this case, you saw guys make a play. Overall I think we’ll be OK. We’ve got to fix some things but we’ll be all right.”
Defensive end Conor Sheehy delivered a huge play in the second quarter when he broke through between the center and right guard to get his big mitt on a 45-yard field goal attempt, keeping the Panthers off the board.
Anthony Lotti started his second straight game at punter and executed punts of 42 and 30, the second of which pinned GSU at its own 8. This has allowed sophomore P.J. Rosowski to focus solely on kickoffs where he had been a huge weapon and asset. After five of his six kickoffs went for touchbacks, his percentage is 68.4 percent (13 of 19) for the season.
Kicker Rafael Gaglianone hit twice from 41 and once from 28, but missed his first of the year from 30 yards to end the half wide left, possibly over compensating for being on the right hash.
Georgia State’s kickoffs (the two that weren't touchbacks) were handled by Alec Ingold and Dare Ogunbowale. Ogunbowale’s s 41-yard kickoff return in the final quarter set up the go-ahead touchdown. Maybe he should UW’s top returner?
The decision by Chryst to flipped Houston for Hornibrook – as tough as it might have been – was the right one. Does Houston join Danny O’Brien as quarterbacks getting replaced by redshirt freshmen in week three and never getting their job back? There were other situations where play calling could have been better considering the circumstances but things appeared fine for the most part.
UW’s defense struggled to adjust to the quick slants in the second half, causing some big hits in the passing game. Players who spoke after the game said Georgia State’s did some different formations that the team didn’t see throughout the week. The Badgers need to go to a plan B quicker.