MADISON—Prior to Saturday’s 24-10 victory over Michigan, it was not hard to become wrapped into the severity and gravity of the game. I was blessed enough to play the game of football for 14 years, but the importance of yesterday’s game was almost palpable.
You could feel it as the game began to play out. The ebbs and flows of the game brought the crowd to their feet, and back down to earth when things didn’t go as planned. Luckily for the Badger faithful, the players’ emotions weren’t as volatile.
That was evident after redshirt sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook threw his 13th interception of the year, as Wisconsin’s offense then proceeded to put together back-to-back touchdown drives totaling 138 yards to regain the lead against Michigan.
What was the catalyst for the change in offensive effectiveness that allowed Wisconsin to take command of the game on both sides of the ball after only gaining 99 yards in the first half?
“I think we did a really good job of finishing,” left tackle Michael Deiter said. “After a while, we just kind of said ‘enough is enough’. Sure, they’re good, but that doesn’t mean we’re just going to lay down.”
Apparently enough was enough, as Wisconsin’s touchdowns separated themselves from the Wolverines, who were clinging to a 10-7 lead despite little offensive success of their own.
The story about halfway through the third quarter once again became about Hornibrook, as a pass on first down from the Badgers’ 10-yard line resulted in an interception by linebacker Devin Bush. The Wolverines would take over at the UW 29 but would be held to a field goal.
Hornibrook’s resilience this season has been arguably his most impressive characteristic, seemingly coming up with his best plays after his worst. He has been the scapegoat for a lot of the offense’s struggles this season, but the redshirt sophomore realizes that he’s not the first Badgers quarterback to receive this criticism.
“Joel [Stave] obviously went through a lot of adversity, and I was pretty close with him when he was here,” Hornibrook said, who completed nine of 19 passes for 143 yards with a touchdown and interception each. “I just tried to soak up all the things I could from him, so he was definitely a good resource for that.”
Hornibrook’s receiving targets were very vocal about how much they enjoy his willingness to push the ball downfield after he makes mistakes.
“It’s the same story all year,” senior tight end Troy Fumagalli said after the game. “Things don’t go his way early, but then he finds a way. Credit to him for believing in us, because that’s not always easy to do.”
Two of Hornibrook’s younger wide receivers, who both have stepped up due to injuries at the position group, echoed similar sentiments. Redshirt freshman Kendric Pryor noted his short memory, especially in a high-pressure position like quarterback.
“When adversity strikes, some guys don’t even want to hear it or give anyone any time of day, but he just uses that and gets better,” said sophomore wide receiver A.J. Taylor, who caught Hornibrook’s 24-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to take the lead.
In a position as demanding and visible position like quarterback, Deiter also commented about his feelings about the criticism that Hornibrook has faced.
“I don’t want to say that [fans] whine, but they like to blame someone when things aren’t going right,” Deiter said, “and it’s easy to point at the quarterback, it really is.”
Containing Maurice Hurst, Michigan defensive line
The other headline from the game that was obvious was that, for the first time this season, Wisconsin was outplayed up front for a large chunk of this game. Wisconsin only gained 99 yards in the first half (59 rushing, 40 passing), gained only four first down and was one of six on third down conversions against the nation’s best defense in that category.
True freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, now a Doak Walker finalist, was held under 50 yards in the first half, and the Wisconsin offense was sputtering because of it.
Widely projected first round draft prospect Maurice Hurst made life hell for the Wisconsin offensive line all game long, recording six tackles, one for loss. Head coach Paul Chryst praised the defensive tackle during the post game press conference, and mentioned that he has a future playing on Sundays.
While members of the Wisconsin offensive line weren’t sparing in praise for the Michigan stand out, they also stressed how important it is for them to get their jobs done, regardless of how good the opponent is.
“He’s got both speed and power, so we knew it was going to be a grind,” commented redshirt junior guard Beau Benzschawel. “We didn’t really change anything up for him, but we knew it would be a battle.”
Redshirt freshman center Tyler Biadasz, who was originally questionable entering the game with a left leg injury, said they had seen enough movement to “cut it loose,” and were able to improve in the second half.
“You have to watch a lot of film on [Hurst] to get ready, but I think confidence is a big thing,” Biadasz said. “If you’re not confident going in, you’re already beat.”