Though Wisconsin suffered an overtime loss at home against Ohio State this weekend, the team proved their ability to compete closely against a #2 ranked team, keeping them in the top 10 for AP college football polls and assuring naysayers that this team still has the ability to come up strong going into the second half of the season.
Alex Hornibrook’s performance
Against Michigan two weeks prior, many negatively referred to Hornibrook as a freshman quarterback after he finished the game 9 of 25 passes for 88 yards, three interceptions and one touchdown. Barry Alvarez reported this week, however, that Hornibrook suffered an injury on the first drive of the game with a bruised sternum.
Hornibrook’s performance improved against Ohio State though it was not nearly up to the same standards the redshirt freshman set against Michigan State in early October. On Saturday night, Hornibrook finished 16 of 28 with 214 yards and one touchdown to one interception.
“I thought he did some things tonight that were good, and there were some things he’s got to clean up,” Coach Chryst said after the game. “I think there’s a lot of guts on this team. This group cares about each other. They also want to be the best football player they can be and contribute to this team. I think we’ve got a ton of guys. Alex is one of them.”
The Jazz Sweep and offensive movement
Wide receiver Jazz Peavy had a particularly strong game on Saturday and set himself up as a large running and passing threat on the Wisconsin offense. Chryst ran several repetitive sweep plays with Peavy getting in for the first down and moving the ball down the field. Peavy had four catches for 76 yards and a touchdown and six carries for 70 yards.
Tight end Troy Fumagalli was another key receiver against Ohio State. Fumagalli led in receptions with seven for 84 yards.
The Badgers struggled greatly in the third quarter to move their ball down the field. After a relatively efficient first half, the team stagnated and gave the Ohio State offense time to catch up on the board. A combination of a pass and run offense allowed Wisconsin to make a comeback in the fourth quarter. Their momentum, however, did not translate into a win as the team could not make the necessary last four plays in overtime.
The Return of Corey Clement
After outside criticism as well as his own, senior running back Corey Clement performed to his own high standards on Saturday. Clement rushed 25 times for 166 yards against Ohio State’s defense. Clement was able to break through several holes for first downs including a 68-yard run to push the ball all the way downfield.
“I allowed myself to be patience,” Clement said of his improvement this week.
Wisconsin’s run game will have to keep improving in the next few games in order to move the ball and come up with the necessary first downs which the team struggled with at times.
Assurance of Endicott
Probably the player with the most successful personal game was new starting kicker Andrew Endicott. The senior was moved to starter after Rafael Gaglianone was ruled out for the season with a back injury. In Saturday night’s game, Endicott kicked 3 of 3 necessary field goals, two of which were above 30 yards.
“Obviously a game like this, Endy came up big,” Chryst said. “Yeah, we had confidence with him before this game, you know what I’m saying?”
Leading defensive playmaker: Jack Cichy
The defense, though still playing at high Wisconsin standards, did not play with the same precision that they had in weeks prior with several key missed tackles and fewer big defensive plays. This can partly be explained with the defense’s time on the field. Ohio State controlled most of the third quarter, tiring out a normally aggressive Wisconsin defense. Coupled with an explosive, dual threat player in Ohio State’s quarterback J.T. Barrett, the defense struggled with low numbers in the overtime loss.
“It just sucks when there are a lot of plays left out there that you could have made,” outside linebacker T.J. Watt said.
It was inside linebacker Jack Cichy who debatably played the best on Saturday. Cichy led in team tackles with 11 total including 3.5 for a loss. He also was able to make several big plays to put pressure on Barrett and his offense.
In the first quarter Cichy forced a fumble by Barrett, though the fumble was also recovered by Barrett. In the third quarter Cichy was able to put pressure on Barrett and ultimately get a sack on him in the fourth quarter.
Starting outside linebacker Vince Biegel is also expected to return in the next few weeks, which could help reignite the Wisconsin defense. That being said, Biegel’s replacement Garrret Dooley has played well in Biegel’s absence. Against Ohio State, Dooley had four tackles and a quarterback hurry.
Focus turns to Iowa
One of Wisconsin’s biggest takeaways may just be the sting of such a close loss, especially with it being a loss at home. Chryst stressed in his postgame press conference that the players all care about this team and constantly work to improve. A tough loss will only fuel their desire to win more.
“We just leave the bitter taste in our mouth a little bit to get out and work, but it’s Iowa,” Hornibrook said on moving past this loss.
Wisconsin will play Iowa on the road next week. Chryst, as always, stressed the need for growth and for the team to continue to set itself to high Wisconsin standards.
“What this group wants to be is the best team it can be. I’m proud certainly of the program and everything. This is our window. This is this year’s team’s window. The objective is to be the best we can be,” Chryst said. “I don’t want to speak for our guys. They’ve got voices. But the bar is set high here.”