MADISON, Wis. — Despite some key injuries early in Saturday’s game, Wisconsin beat Georgia State 23-17 at Camp Randall in a surprisingly close last non-conference game of the season.
Running back Taiwan Deal, who started for an injured Corey Clement, and tight end Troy Fumagalli both went out early in the first quarter with right leg injuries. Both would not return
Chryst said in his post-game press conference that he is optimistic of the return of all three players.
The Wisconsin offense started off the game with back-to-back field goals, unable to convert in Georgia State territory. Junior Rafael Gaglianone was the top offensive playmaker in the first half with two out of three field goal completions. Wisconsin lead 6-0 at the half, controlling the time of possession 18:48-11:12.
While Wisconsin led at the half with 14 first downs to Georgia State’s 6, they struggled near the end zone, unable to make crucial third down conversions, completing 2 of 9 third downs compared to Georgia State’s 3 of 7.
The Wisconsin offense struggled throughout the game with the loss of key starters. While redshirt freshman Bradrick Shaw started out with four carries for 20 yards in the first quarter, a costly fumble in the second quarter resulted in fewer touches for him later in the game. Shaw would finished the game with 15 carries for 67 yards.
Wide receiver Jazz Peavy was targeted early in the first quarter with a 24-yard catch but wasn’t seen again until the second half. Fullback Alec Ingold also had two catches in the first half for 13 yards.
The biggest change in momentum for the Badgers appeared in the third quarter when redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook went in for fifth-year starting quarterback Bart Houston. Houston exited the game completing 10 of 18 passes for 91 yards. A few overthrown balls in the first half may have resulted in him being pulled from the game in the second half.
“I just wanted to get something going,” Chryst said of the quarterback adjustment. “I thought we needed a little spark.”
While Houston said he felt he played well minus a few throws in the first half, he praised Hornibrook on his playing ability in the second half when discussing his feelings about being pulled from the game.
“It would have felt better, but we wouldn’t have won without Alex getting some real time,” Houston said after the game.
On Hornibrook’s first drive in the third quarter he completed two of two throws for 48 yards that would take the Badgers down the field and in for an Ogunbowale rushing touchdown. Hornibrook would throw his first career interception, however at the beginning of the fourth quarter that would lead to a Georgia State touchdown.
Despite the interception, Hornibrook was able to target a variety of receivers and move the ball quickly down the field—something Houston struggled with in the first half. Later in the fourth quarter a combination of a solid passing offense and a pairing of Ogunbowale and Shaw led to a touchdown throw from Houston to redshirt freshman tight end Kyle Penniston, putting the Badgers up 20-17.
“I just wanted to get us out of the jam that we were in,” Hornibrook said of his performance in the second half.
After seeing playing time last week against Akron, Hornibrook said that while he did not feel nervous taking over in the second half, it was a different experience than the previous week.
“Last week it was more not to lose the game and this week it was more to win the game,” Hornibrook said.
Hornibrook would finish the day completing eight of 12 passes for 122 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Robert Wheelwright was the top receiver of the day with four catches for 35 yards followed by Jazz Peavy with three catches for 67 yards and tight end Kyle Penniston with three catches for 35 yards and one touchdown.
Ultimately, Wisconsin’s win was in huge part thanks to a consistent Wisconsin defense that hasn’t faltered in these first three games. The Wisconsin defense started out strong and continued throughout the game, holding Georgia State to 17 points.
Inside linebacker T.J. Edwards started his first game of the season, coming off a foot injury sustained in fall camp. He led the team in tackles with 11.
Other key defensive leaders included T.J. Watt with a big sack on Georgia State’s first drive of the game and redshirt freshman Zack Baun who forced a fumble that gave Wisconsin great field position early in the second quarter. Shaw would fumble immediately after, however.
The defense was not able to shutout Georgia State in the second half when they finally put points on the board with a field goal and touchdown in the third quarter. Georgia State would have a quick touchdown run early in the fourth quarter following Hornibrook’s interception that would put Georgia State up 17-13.
“They were a great team. We knew that coming into this game. They have a lot of great wide receivers, a lot of great guys up front, and they had a great quarterback,” Watt said of the Georgia State offense.
Wisconsin would finish the game with 400 yards of total offense compared to Georgia State’s 302 yards. The biggest struggle for the team was getting the ball moving down the field, something that greatly improved in the second half with Hornibrook at quarterback. Wisconsin finished the game completing eight of 16 third downs and one of one fourth downs.
The biggest question going into next week will be the quarterback situation as Hornibrook clearly had the more successful day compared with Houston. Chryt said Houston remains the starting quarterback though that does not determine who will start and who will see the most playing time next week.
This game was an obvious shock for Wisconsin Badgers fans after Wisconsin was ranked the number nine collegiate team by the Associated Press this week. While this game was not at the level of a high-ranked team, a win is a win for Chryst.
“We’re 3-0 going into Big Ten play and that part of it is good,” Chryst said.
The Wisconsin Badgers will be on the road next week when they take on Michigan State Saturday Sept. 24th in East Lansing.