Amidst the media frenzy surrounding the most recent quarterback competition between fifth year senior Bart Houston and redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook, the Wisconsin receiving corps remains unfazed by the situation heading into the team’s first Big Ten game against Michigan State this weekend.
Following the Badgers very close win against Georgia State at Camp Randall this past weekend, rumors have been circulating on who will be the starter in Wisconsin’s first Big Ten game against Michigan State. On Monday reports from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said that Hornibrook would be the starting quarterback. In his weekly press conference, Coach Chryst said that both quarterbacks would prepare for Saturday, and at Tuesday’s media availability Hornibrook reported that he would be the starter before then checking with media personnel and saying that both him and Houston would prepare for the starting role on Saturday.
Against Georgia State, Houston completed 10 of 19 throws for 91 yards before being pulled during the third quarter and replaced with Hornibrook.
“I just wanted to get something going,” Chryst said in his post-game press conference. “I thought we needed a little spark.”
Hornibrook proved to be that spark, completing eight of 12 throws for 122 yards and a touchdown. With Hornibrook in the middle of the huddle, the receiving corps appeared to respond better and get open for the throws.
“It’s not so much that Alex [Hornibrook] was the savior by any means,” wide receiver coach Ted Gilmore said. “He did a terrific job but also guys made plays and some guys didn’t make those plays for Bart [Houston].”
In the first half against Georgia State, the Wisconsin offense had only 81 yards of passing and 120 yards of rushing offense. Those stats would improve to 213 yards of passing and 187 yards of rushing by the end of the game.
Hornibrook was able to use his many receiving targets to move the ball efficiently down the field. Wide receivers Robert Wheelwright and Jazz Peavy, who were shut out in the first half, made more crucial plays in the second half as the number one and number two leading receivers. Redshirt freshman tight end Kyle Penniston caught the only touchdown of the game after missing two passes by Houston earlier in the game. Freshman AJ Taylor also recorded a pass for 14 yards.
“I’d say it was a little bit of Hornibrook coming in,” Taylor said on the shift in momentum. “But I’d also say that was the time when the team kind of sparked, and we were like we need to get something going, and we could tell everyone was serious.”
That spark was what Peavy described as the energy missing throughout the first half. While he couldn’t say if the quarterback adjustment was the cause of this surge in energy in the third quarter, it was definitely present and critical to the change in the offense’s tempo and ultimately the team’s win.
Going into the Michigan State game, the wide receivers and coaching staff will prepare the same as usual despite no confirmation on who will start on Saturday.
“Whoever’s playing we’ve just got to make sure we are doing our job and whoever is playing quarterback is going to be in there doing their job,” Peavy said.
The wide receivers expressed an overall sense of comfort and confidence in the quarterback-receiver relationship with both Houston and Hornibrook. One key differences discussed early in the week is a technical difference in the two quarterback’s throw.
“There are a little bit of different adjustments,” Taylor said. “Like Bart is right-handed and Alex is left-handed. I mean it’s still catching the ball, but sometimes it’s a little different, and it might catch you off-guard. “
Wheelwright said on Monday that normally the ball rotation goes unnoticed because of the quick throws and fast-paced offensive. Gilmore has instilled into the receivers that the ball rotation should not affect the players’ ability to catch the ball.
“Regardless of who’s throwing that ball, regardless of what hand it’s coming out of, our job is to catch that ball. Focus on the ball and catch it. I don’t care who’s throwing it,” Gilmore said.
Wheelwright said that while both quarterbacks can make the necessary throws and win games, Hornibrook’s throw has a bit of a unique touch to it.
“He has a Stave-like touch to him. He does have a different type of throw,” he said.
“For Alex Hornibrook, he’s got a really good arm when it comes to touch and finesse,” Taylor says of the two quarterbacks’ strengths. “Bart knows the game so well.”
If nothing else, the recent continuation of the quarterback competition has only reinvigorated the team to better prepare themselves and continuously compete for their spot.
“It kind of just reinforces that nobody’s position is safe, so everybody has just got to keep working,” Taylor said.
Though it is not officially confirmed, all signs point to Hornibrook starting against Michigan State.
“Whoever the coaches trust more and who’s going to help us win, I feel like that is whoever is going to play,” Peavy said.
Whether it is Houston or Hornibrook commanding the Wisconsin offense on Saturday, the receivers are confident in both of their quarterbacks and in their own ability to make plays and create a more productive offense than was seen against Georgia State last weekend.