The 2016 season was quite a roller coaster for then redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook. He went from being the backup to senior Bart Houston, to being thrust into a starting role, making his debut on the road in East Lansing against Michigan State. Hornibrook started the next nine games, but he saw a platoon system implemented with Houston and himself, before being injured and missing the Big Ten Championship game as well as the Cotton Bowl. This fall, the keys to offense have been handed to him, and Hornibrook has a stable of weapons to help take his game to the next level.
Coach Paul Chryst ran a fairly vanilla offense with Hornibrook at the helm, giving the young quarterback half-field reads and play action to help simplify some of the reads. This fall, look for Chryst to remove the kid gloves and see what the talented lefty has to offer. The Badgers return top wide receiver Jazz Peavy and star of the Cotton Bowl, tight end Troy Fumagali, as threats on the outside for Hornibrook to target. Despite losing top rushers Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale to the NFL, the ground game should be as strong as ever with Bradrick Shaw and transfer Chris James in the backfield.
What may be most important of all for Hornibrook is that he is now the unquestioned starter under center. He averaged a meager 6.9 yards/attempt last season, a number that is not exactly something to write home about. Part of the reason he did not push the ball downfield is undoubtedly the conservative play calling, which is not unusual with a first year starter. The other factor may have been the fact that Hornibrook was constantly looking over his shoulder at a fifth year senior who was the starter heading into the year. Far be it for me to try and play arm chair psychologist, but knowing that you are the starter from jump street can only help your confidence.
If Hornibrook does decide to air the ball out more, a player that could reap the benefits of that is George Rushing. The senior speedster has struggled to find consistent playing time under Coach Chryst, but he has the type of homerun ability that has been lacking since a certain number 25 left Madison. The Badgers did a remarkable job grinding out possessions, leading the Big Ten in time of possession with 34:58 minutes per game. As great as that is, being able to strike from anywhere adds an element to the offense that helps alleviate some the pressure from the quarterback. Getting the ball to playmakers like Rushing and Peavy and letting them create after the catch should be a top priority for Hornibrook.
Alex Hornibrok has finally been given the keys to the car. No longer will he have to answer questions about the playing time split between himself and Bart Houston. Entering his second season at the helm, the weight of the quarterback competition has been lifted and he can lead the Badger offense to greater heights.