Alex Hornibrook was far from perfect against Michigan State but his superb work on third down helped the offense move efficiently down the field against the Spartans’ talented front. Take that third-down savvy away against a better front seven and you get the result you saw last weekend.
Save for two well-executed timing throws, Hornibrook was not effective against Michigan for a variety of reasons. He misfired countless times to wide open receivers, overthrowing Rob Wheelwright in the first quarter on first-and-10 and later in the fourth quarter for what became the game’s critical turnover. He also airmailed Jazz Peavy, who had no defender within 10+ yards of him on a play that could have gone for a 75+ yard touchdown.
Why the problems? Pressure for one. After showing so much poise and confidence in the pocket, Hornibrook looked like a young quarterback with the way he panicked when pressure started to breakdown. Instead of standing strong, absorbing a hit or stepping up into the pocket, Hornibrook tucked and looked to run, tried to sidestep the problems or holding on to the ball, all signs of an unsure quarterback and all things that didn’t pay off.
With the game tied and UW facing a third-and-8, Hornibrook decided to cut in and try to scramble when Michigan’s front started to get close. Watching the play live, he had more time to make a throw downfield but instead took the sack. Michigan scored the winner on the next drive after getting decent field position. The mobility factor that we saw against Michigan State wasn’t there.
Hornibrook threw three interceptions, giving him five in the last three games. While the last one was him trying to make a play in a desperation scenario, the first two were bad misfires. Throwing across the field at the end of the first half, Channing Stribling didn’t have to work hard to cut the route ran by Peavy. Worst yet, Hornibrook had already locked on Peavy. Had he waited a beat, he would have had Wheelwright about to break across the midfield line. The second pick was the overthrow to Wheelwright when Hornibrook couldn't handle a once-sustained pocket.
Wisconsin had 13 series against Michigan and ran only two plays in the red zone after the Badgers’ defense forced a turnover. With an average starting field position at its own 26, Wisconsin averaged 4.1 plays per drive and had seven drives gain seven yards or less. It’s not all on Hornibrook, as we’ll examine below, and his 17-yard touchdown throw on a wheel route was perfectly thrown/placed and his best of the day, but going 5-for-11 for 58 yards, three first downs, one interception, two sacks and one bobbled snap on third down didn’t cut it.
Curiously, after Hornibrook came in two weeks ago to give a stagnate offense a spark, Bart Houston wasn’t inserted in this game when the Badgers clearly needed a jump start. Is this a sign that head coach Paul Chryst is sticking for the rest of the season? Time will tell, but UW needs much better play from its quarterback than 9-for-25 for 88 yards, including just 6-for-21 in the final three quarters.
Almost a big of concern with the up-and-down play under center is the lack of punch delivered by the running game this season, especially by tailback Corey Clement.
Clement finished with 68 yards on 17 carries, better production than his 54 yards on 23 carries a week ago, but didn’t have the big consistent punch. Twelve of his 17 carries went for three yards or less, including three for no gain and four for a gain of one yard. His biggest runs of 19 and 16 yards came on first down but Michigan’s decision to load the box with Hornibrook mostly ineffective paid off. He also had a drop on a screen pass that could have netter UW some yards.
Outside Clement, nobody else for Wisconsin got much work. Backup tailback Taiwan Deal got no carries and Dare Ogunbowale had only two carries for three yards. He did have three catches for 23 yards, including his 17-yard touchdown catch that was beautifully executed from both sides.
Alec Ingold had his fumble overturned on his third-and-1 carry in the first half and never carried the ball again, as Wisconsin gave Austin Ramesh two carries (four yards) on first down runs. All the runners combined for 100 yards gained on 24 carries (4.2 yards per carry)
Clement continues to say he’s 100 percent when pressed by reporters. Does that mean 100 percent overall healthy or 100 percent in-season healthy? Clement hasn’t been fully healthy since the beginning of his sophomore season.
No matter who is under center, Wisconsin has to be concerned about its run game. Four out of five games the Badgers have been held under four yards per carry, including under three the last two.
Of the nine completed passes by Wisconsin, six went into the arms of Wisconsin receivers, making it hard to really justify a group that had so little work. Wheelwright led the team with 46 yards on his three catches (44 of them came on two third-down catches) but the senior also missed a catchable pass on second-and-10 that would have moved the chains on UW’s final drive.
Peavy was targeted a team-high seven times but only made one catch. He did deliver a 17-yard run on an end around, a formation Wisconsin used quite a bit and ran different plays off. That run was sprung by a solid block by Troy Fumagalli on the edge. Fumagalli also had a quiet day with two caches for 12 yards.
Not a lot of action for the group but also unofficially four drops.
After the protection steadily improved throughout the game against Michigan State, and guards Jon Dietzen and Micah Kapoi still working their way back from injuries, offensive line coach Joe Rudolph decided to stick with the same line of Michael Deiter at left guard and Brett Connors at center.
The result this week was Michigan’s defensive line controlling the line of scrimmage most of the game, leaving few opportunities for the line to open up large running lanes and for Hornibrook not to be under constant pressure. Connors and right tackle Jacob Maxwell appeared to struggle the most with both pass pro and opening up running lanes, but the whole interior of the line did not provide adequate protection or got significant push in the run game.
Of the 16 run plays UW ran on first down, the Badgers got three yards or fewer on 12 of them. It’s part of the reason UW had to gain roughly seven yards on its third downs. Wisconsin’s eight first downs was its lowest since at least 2000. It’s not a stretch to see why.
Michigan’s running game came on averaging 229.8 yards on the ground, so the Badgers holding the Wolverines to only 130 yards on 44 attempts (3.0 average) and only one chunk play over 22 yards was tremendous.
The Badgers’ front – led by sophomore Olive Sagapolu’s career-high five tackles – combined for 1.5 sacks. Alec James’ 9-yard sack on third down was critical to push Michigan into a longer field goal try, which it missed.
Michigan entered averaging 5.41 yards per carry and converting 54.4 percent of third downs. Wisconsin held them to 3.0 ypc and 20 percent (3 of 15).
Even without Vince Biegel, Wisconsin delivered a punch from the outside linebacker position. T.J. Watt finished with 11 tackles overall, including two for loss, and upped his season sack total to 5.5 with a sack on third-and-15 to end the third quarter. His quarterback hurry on third-and-8 forced a fourth down and another missed field goal by Michigan
Of Jack Cichy’s career-high 12 tackles, 10 were solo stops. He didn’t get a pass breakup but his dive led to a tip pass that fell into the hands of cornerback Derrick Tindal, resulting in a 46-yard return to set up Wisconsin’s lone touchdown. That made up for getting caught in a blitz and seeing Michigan get a 22-yard run on its first touchdown drive.
Garret Dooley made his first career start with Biegel’s injury and has earned more play. His seven stops were a career-high, one of which included breaking up a reverse for no gain on first down, and he added a pass breakup and a 16-yard sack on third-and-6 in the fourth quarter.
T.J Edwards finished with 11 tackles, meaning UW’s four starting linebackers combined for 41 of the team’s 76 total tackles.
Having two days to prep without Biegel, this group was a big reason why Michigan was held 38 points under its scoring average.
Even with the 46-yard completion that decided the game, it was hard to pick out a lot of negatives from this group. People will remember the touchdown Tindal gave up, and while he did get beat off the line on a move by Amara Darboh, it was a near perfect throw and catch. Up until that point, the secondary has given up only three plays of 20 yards or more. Tindal and Sojourn Shelton each finished with four tackles and stayed aggressive.
Leo Musso continues to grow in the free safety role (career-high seven tackles, 0.5 TFL, pass breakup) and D’Cota Dixon just continues to hit people with strong, clean tackles. His wallops helped him have two of UW’s five pass breakups.
The one negative for this group was Luburn Figaro missing an interception at his own goal line. Michigan didn’t end up getting any points on the drive but could Figaro have returned the play for a touchdown? We’ll never know.
Wisconsin made a change with its long distance punter with true freshman Anthony Lotti’s punts of 40, 39 and 40 failed to flip the field position or yield high hang time, and his last punt gave Michigan a first down at Wisconsin’s 39 after Jabrill Peppers had a 13-yard return. Lotti did return in the fourth quarter with a perfect 27-yard coffin corner kick, pinning Michigan at the 7 with 12:54 remaining.
P.J. Rosowski replaced Lotti near the end of the second quarter. Punting for the first time since the season opener against LSU, Rosowski’s 30-yard punt went out of bounds at the Michigan 31. His next three delivered better hang time, as his punts of 35, 42 and 40 were all fair caught by Peppers.
It wasn’t pretty but they got the job done because Peppers was a non-factor with returns of 13 and 6.
Rosowski only had two kickoffs, one of went for a touchback and one went four-yard deep into the end zone. Peppers decided to bring that kick out and was hit hard by Serge Trezy, who beat a pair of blockers to deliver the blow. Ogunbowale returned only one kickoff for 18 yards.
Somebody needs to tell Peavy when to and not to catch punts, as his decision to catch a ball at the two and at the eight should never happen.
It’s tough to be a play caller when things aren’t working in the run or the pass, but Chryst ran a number of actions off having a receiver in motion. That yielded some of UW’s better gains on the ground, but the offensive line has to be improved. UW should also get more use out Deal and Ogunbowale, the latter being a matchup program.
The defense is a different matter. Wisconsin’s defensive coaches have this unit playing remarkably well, no matter who is in the fold. The challenge continues to crescendo and the team has answered the bell.
The plan to negate Peppers in the return game needed two punters but was sound and delivered the job