Wisconsin Position Analysis: Badger Quarterbacks

Wisconsin Position Analysis: Badger Quarterbacks

Football

Wisconsin Position Analysis: Badger Quarterbacks

Main Story – Hornibrook’s Development

As he threw oranges from the bowl of his team’s newly earned trophy, Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook had the look of a youngster who had arrived and thrived on the big stage.

The question now is can Hornibrook take the big leap forward.

There’s no quarterback controversy for the second straight season for Wisconsin, not after Hornibrook started all 14 games a year ago, completed 62.3 percent (198 of 318) of his passes, had the second-most touchdown passes (25) in a UW single-season and threw for 2,607 passing yards, fifth-most in a single season at UW.

His crowning moment was last December’s Orange Bowl in which he went 23-for-34 for a career-high 258 yards and a UW bowl game-record four touchdowns against Miami in Miami Gardens, improving his record to 20-3 as a starter.

But the one glaring weakness to his game could prove crippling if not corrected in 2018: Interceptions.

Hornibrook’s 15 interceptions were tied for fifth-most in the country last season, which included four multi-interception games and at least one pick in nine of his final 11 games. The number probably should have been higher, and the Orange Bowl is a prime example.

Facing a first-and-10 from his own 21 early in the third quarter, Hornibrook took a five-step drop and quickly locked on receiver Kendric Pryor, who was running an inside slant. The time from the snap of the ball to throw was barely two seconds, not enough time to see Miami inside linebacker Shaquille Quarterman drifting with the play.

Had Quarterman cleanly caught the pass, or returned it for a touchdown with the open field in front of him, the offseason narrative involving Wisconsin’s quarterback likely changes.

And with Hornibrook likely without a top-10 defense to help erase his mistakes this season, there’s even more pressure on him to deliver.

The results are promising early on. Under the guidance of newly minted quarterback coach Jon Budmayr, Hornibrook took tangible steps forward in spring and carried that over into the Manning Passing Academy, a three-day event in Louisiana. On the final day, he won the Quarterback Challenge competition and the “Air-It-Out” throwing exhibition by hitting three moving golf cart targets.

Among the quarterbacks he beat out: South Carolina’s Jake Bentley, Washington’s Jake Browning, Georgia’s Jake Fromm, Alabama’s Jalen Hurts, Missouri’s Drew Lock, Penn State’s Trace McSorley and Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham.

If Hornibrook could beat that group throwing at motorized caddies, think what he could do with a confident receiving arsenal at his disposal. His two Orange Bowl touchdown targets – Danny Davis and A.J. Taylor – return and a host of young receivers, led by Pryor and sophomore walk-on Jack Dunn, are ready to step in.

That was evident on Friday night. In Wisconsin’s 34-3 win over Western Kentucky, Hornibrook went 17-for-29 for 257 yards and two touchdowns in targeting nine different receivers. Most importantly he didn’t commit a turnover.

“I thought Alex made some good decisions and extended a couple plays,” head coach Paul Chryst said postgame. “Those were big on a couple of those touchdown drives.”

While there certainly is swagger coming off a 14-1 campaign, Hornibrook told UWBadgers that this year’s group is a new team with a new identity.

“It has to be new,” he insisted, “because we don’t want to be the same team that we were last year. We want to be better. We’ll use what we had in the past and keep growing on that.”

Subplot – Jack Coan’s Readiness

The health of Hornibrook caused true freshman Jack Coan to slowly get his feet wet last season after beating out redshirt sophomore Kare Lyles in camp, as the New Yorker appeared in six games and went a perfect 5-for-5 for 36 yards.

With Lyles transferring from the program following spring, and redshirt freshman Danny Vanden Boom and true freshman Chase Wolf, still developing, Coan inherited the backup job.

A 6-3 quarterback with a decent arm, Coan took a nice step forward in an April 20 spring scrimmage, finishing 10-for-16 for 221 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. More importantly, Coan had the look of a more confident quarterback throughout fall camp, which is what one would expect entering his second year on campus.

Coan didn’t get a chance to see action against the Hilltoppers but a likely appearance this Saturday against New Mexico must show that he’s ready to lead a potent offensive attack if he’s called on in crunch time.

Stat to Know

Hornibrook put up some of his best numbers when he targeted the middle of the field last year. Breaking down the numbers with Pro Football Focus, Hornibrook was 67-for-90 for 642 yards, three touchdowns and an interception from 0-9 yards; 41-for-66 for 634 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions and 12-for-23 for 363 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions over 20 yards. Those numbers put him above the N.C.A.A. average in all three categories.

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