EAST LANSING, Mich. – Whether playing at home in a blowout or making his first start on the road against the defending conference champions, Alex Hornibrook always appears calm, collected and poised under center. What’s the redshirt freshman’s secret? A little country music twang.
“Some George Strait kind of helps out,” Hornibrook said. “I’ve got the 50 greatest hits.”
The easy listening helped Hornibrook answer the question of how he would handle his first road start after taking care of two patsies at home, helping the offense score 23 points in a 30-6 beat down of No.8 Michigan State at Spartan Stadium.
In the first four weeks of the college football season, No.11 Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) has beaten two top-10 teams away from Camp Randall, using two different quarterbacks nonetheless. There’s no quarterback controversy anymore, not with Hornibrook going 16-for-26 for 195 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
“He’s a guy loves being a part of this team, is a tremendous worker and think that he has a skill set that’s pretty good.,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said of Hornibrook, who he named the starter over senior Bart Houston earlier in the week. “The thing I love about him is he’s consistent and he works.”
It’s hard to pick where Hornibrook was more impressive in his first start – his poise on third down or his confidence in the red zone.
Put in some dire third-and-long situations, Hornibrook went 9-for-12 for 136 yards on “money down,” moving the chains six times. The quarterback said the offense entered the game feeling confident that the planned play calls would neutralize Michigan State’s pressure on defense, but it still didn’t matter if he didn’t execute.
He did, going 6-for-6 with four first downs when UW was in third-and-10 or longer
“That’s a huge deal to get third downs, especially when it’s third-and-longs,” Hornibrook said. “That was a great job with our team today to get those.”
They were no cheapies either, as Vince Biegel could attest. Standing on the sidelines before third down so he’d be ready to run in to work punt coverage, the senior had a front-row seat to Hornibrook dissecting Michigan State (2-1, 0-1). More times than not, Biegel returned to his seat on the bench
Hornibrook hit Jazz Peavy three times for big gains: 25 yards on third-and-10 on UW’s first scoring drive, for 23 yards on third-and-12 on the second scoring drive and 31 yards on third-and-8 to set up a field goal and a 23-6 lead. That one, said Biegel, sparked the team’s momentum.
“It was fun to watch first hand Alex Hornibrook drop it into tight windows, drop it into the bucket a few times,” he said. “He’s a great player for us. He’s still developing, scratching the surface, but we’re going to need him come down the rest of the season.”
Coming in converting just 53 percent (8-for-15) of its red-zone chances into touchdowns, UW went 3-for-3 in the red zone with Hornibrook at the helm. In three games, Hornibrook has led seven drive into the red zone, all resulting in the offense coming away with touchdowns.
The first two scores came at critical junctures early in the game.
After lax ball security caused him to fumble near midfield (Michigan State turned it into a field goal to start the scoring), Hornibrook didn’t wait long to make up for it. Leading the Badgers down the field on a 16-play, 65-yard scoring drive, Hornibrook hit Peavy for on third-and-10, Troy Fumagalli for five yards on third-and-2 and the 1-yard touchdown pass to Eric Steffes.
It was the response that the Badgers needed, considering they trimmed 7:38 off the clock as the crowd groaned with every steely completion.
“I wasn’t going to let it (the fumble) hold me down,” Hornibrook said.
The second was after cornerback Sojourn Shelton’s interception ended at the Michigan State 28-yard line, the first of four turnovers forced by the Badgers’ defense. Six plays and two third-down conversions later, tailback Corey Clement was in the end zone for the first of his two scores.
After being held out last week, Clement finished with 54 yards on 23 carries and two scores. UW finished with only 122 rushing yards on 41 carries, just a 3.0 yards per carry average. That’s usually not a recipe for success. Then again, Clement said it’s not commonplace to have a young quarterback with Hornibrook’s moxie.
“That what he wants to prove to everybody, that he can do it,” Clement said. “Nobody probably picked us to win this game, but that’s what we want. He can be an underdog as a quarterback coming into this game. He really made a name for himself, and I can’t wait to see what he can do the rest of the season.”