Under the lights of Hard Rock Stadium on Dec. 30, Alex Hornibrook directed an overwhelming passing attack that stymied Miami’s defense in Wisconsin’s 34–24 Orange Bowl win.
Hornibrook’s numbers that night against a defense priding itself on a “Turnover Chain” mentality were even more impressive considering the perceived match-up: 23-of-34, 258 yards, four touchdown passes, zero interceptions, 170.21 rating.
That outing showed the potential of Wisconsin’s passing attack even without sophomore wide receiver Quintez Cephus, who sustained a season-ending injury in Week 9. Couple his return with another year of the same starting offensive line and Jonathan Taylor, and the Badgers’ offense this upcoming season could be their most potent and balanced since 2011.
The weight of those expectations falls on Hornibrook with another year of experience under his belt, commanding Paul Chryst’s offense for the third straight season.
A season that could bring explosive results.
Wisconsin’s 2018 Quarterbacks
|Alex Hornibrook||R-JR||6'4||220||West Chester, Pa. (Malvern Prep)|
|Jack Coan||SO||6'3||206||Sayville, N.Y.|
|Danny Vanden Boom||R-FR||6'5||212||Kimberly, Wis.|
|Chase Wolf||FR||6'2||207||Loveland, Ohio (Saint Xavier)|
|Nate Carter||FR||6'5||195||Waunakee, Wis.|
Hornibrook completed nearly 63 percent of his passes in 2017 for 2,644 yards and 25 touchdowns, the second-most in school history (passing the all-time winningest quarterback in school history, one Joel Stave).
Hornibrook’s glaring area for improvement is interceptions, as he tossed 15 last season. For Wisconsin’s offense to take an even greater step in efficiency and explosiveness, that number will obviously have to drop. Yet, what stood out after those interceptions was Hornibrook’s resiliency and ability to lead the offense thereafter—most notably after throwing an interception in his own territory against Michigan in Week 11, resulting in the Wolverines taking a 10–7 lead. Hornibrook responded by leading the offense 77 yards in seven plays for the go-ahead score of a 24–10 win. Two big passes to A.J. Taylor, a 51-yard toss on 3rd-and-13 and the 24-yard touchdown strike, showed Hornibrook has the ability to bounce back from mistakes.
Going beyond the traditional spring practice setting, Hornibrook (and Taylor) trained with renowned quarterback guru George Whitfield, Jr. in San Diego. Later in the summer, Hornibrook won the Manning Passing Academy “Air It Out” competition.
“I think Alex has had a great approach to the offseason, not just the summer, but the way he approached spring ball [...] and I like where he’s at,” Chryst told ESPN Madison’s Tony Cartagena at a Mendota Gridiron Club golf event in late June. “I think that was a great way to finish. He did a ton of things last year that were really good, and like any of our players, there’s areas that he can work to get better at, and he’s done that.”
Alex Hornibrook when targeting the middle of the field last season pic.twitter.com/Pp6mzV58vw— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 8, 2018
Hornibrook enters the 2018 season with 34 career touchdown passes. Should he hit the same number as he did last season (25), he would tie Darrell Bevell for the most in UW history. With the weapons at his disposal—four dangerous wide receivers (Cephus, Taylor, Kendric Pryor, and Danny Davis), two capable tight ends (Zander Neuville and Kyle Penniston ... and possibly a third in Jake Ferguson), a touchdown machine at fullback (Alec Ingold), and a Heisman-caliber back (Taylor) who just so happened to practice route running in the spring with Chryst watching—that mark seems well within range.
Behind Hornibrook, Jack Coan secured the No. 2 quarterback spot as a true freshman last fall by upending Karé Lyles. Coan played in six games last season, completing all five of his pass attempts.
Now a second-year player, Coan figures to be the back-up once again. What should be intriguing, however, is the new rule allowing players to redshirt while playing up to four games in a season. That could give the sophomore from Sayville, N.Y., the ability to retain a year of eligibility if he is not needed to relieve Hornibrook at any point.
The apparent No. 3 signal caller heading into fall camp is redshirt freshman and Wisconsin legacy Danny Vanden Boom, who spun the ball well during spring camp.
“Danny’s done some really good things. I’ve really been excited with all the QBs, I really have,” offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Rudolph told reporters back in April. “I think the thing you see with Danny and Jack is what they need to work on is completely unique to themselves. There’s some carryover from one to another, but they’re different body types, different things they need to work, but I’ve seen really strong positives out of both.
“I think where they leave off in the spring and where they start as we get into fall camp, that’ll be huge. That’s a great opportunity to improve over that period of time, and with the reps that they’ve had, I think you come away with a pretty good knowledge base of exactly what do [they] need to work on to get better.”
Behind those three, true freshmen Chase Wolf and Nate Carter enter the program both having prep championships to their names. Wolf led his high school to a state title his junior season, then followed up by passing for 2,532 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior.
Carter helped lead Waunakee to a WIAA Division II state championship last season, ending his Warrior career with 3,823 passing yards and 38 touchdowns.