MADISON — Was the cat let out of the bag as to whom will start at quarterback for the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday?
It appeared that way early Tuesday evening when redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook spoke with reporters after practice. When asked if he was starting, he said this:
“That’s what I’ve heard, yup.”
When a follow-up question asked if the coaches told him that news, Hornibrook took a timeout and spoke with one of UW’s athletic communications directors. He returned to the media scrum.
“Coach is getting us both ready to go, and if I’m the guy, I’m ready to go. If Bart’s the guy, I’m ready for that, too.”
It may have been an unfortunate reveal of the Badgers’ plan heading in to face the No. 8 Spartans, or it could have been Hornibrook taking note of media reports from the weekend that indicated he would start.
Either way, another level of intrigue was layered onto a situation at a key position for the Badgers. The quarterbacks noted they were splitting the reps like they’ve done the previous three weeks.
“I think the value is that there’s two quarterbacks, and you’re a play away every game from the other guy being your guy from then on,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. “So it is one where we got to get both guys ready every week, and I think it’s helped us. I think it’s helped both of those guys continue to develop, so we’re not going to change it.”
Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst did not confirm the status of his two signal callers during his Monday press conference, instead stressing that both have to be prepared for UW’s conference opener.
Hornibrook took charge of the offense on Saturday against Georgia State, completing eight of 12 passes for 122 yards with a touchdown and interception. When in the game, he led the Badgers to 17 of the their 23 points.
On the other side of the coin, Houston was 10-of-18 for 91 yards against the Panthers with the offense only contributing six points. Points were left off the board, however, on two drives that could have totaled 10 more points if not for a goal-line fumble by Bradrick Shaw and a missed 30-yard field goal by junior Rafael Gaglianone in the second quarter.
For the season, Houston has completed 44 of71 (62 percent) passes for 527 yards with two touchdown passes and interceptions apiece after winning the starting position in fall camp. Despite the perceived “controversy,” the redshirt senior noted that the quarterbacks as a position group have the mindset of how they collectively can help the team.
“Yeah, there’s a little frustration, but that’s a little selfish of me and that’s not who I am,” Houston said when asked about the current situation after earning the job. “It’s whatever I can do to help the team. I’ve been saying that for years now, but it’s whatever I can do to help the team. It can be frustrating, but we just got to move on.”
Troy Fumagalli eager to return
Welcomed news for Wisconsin’s offense was the absence of redshirt junior tight end Troy Fumagalli from Monday’s injury list.
Fumagalli was injured on Wisconsin’s first offensive series against Georgia State when he extended out and caught an 11-yard pass for a first down. Fumagalli said he landed on his hip and had some trouble moving around, so he decided to work with the training staff. He was held out for the remainder of the game with what the team reported was a right leg injury.
“I made a lot of progress from what happened until now, just working with the training staff and getting better,” Fumagalli said. “That’s gotta continue until I can be full go on Saturday.”
A returning Fumagalli would be a huge boost for Wisconsin’s offense against a seasoned Michigan State defense that held a talented Notre Dame offense to 14 points through three quarters in a 36-28 win last Saturday.
“I think it’s going to be a physical battle,” Fumagalli said. “I think their defense is very good, especially now with what they did the last couple of weeks and in the past so we got to be ready for that. I think they play a lot like our defense where they really don’t give up on a play. They’re going to come, going to hit you in the mouth so we really gotta be ready for that.”