It’s the most classic of football motifs; “He looks like [insert name of great player] out there.” Theoretically, arguments and comparisons of this sort have no real bearing as obviously no one player is exactly like another.
The arguments and comparisons are still relentlessly made, and no doubt Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who broke out for a huge game against BYU this past weekend, will end up drawing comparisons to some other quarterbacks of past teams. So instead of instead of leaving it up to the ignorant masses, we are going to dive deep into the stat sheet and figure out who he should be compared to.
Just looking at his game against BYU last weekend might lead some astray.
In the thinner air of Provo, UT, Hornibrook almost had literally a perfect day under center. He had 18 completions on 19 passes for 256 yards and threw a career-high four touchdowns. He had an astounding 94 percent completion percentage against a team that supposedly had a decent defense. Heck, his only incompletion was a drop by Danny Davis.
Instantly, the fact that only one other quarterback since 2000 has had a 94 percent completion percentage in a game, Hornibrook will draw comparisons to that quarterback.
Long and behold, it was Russell Wilson, the 2011 Wisconsin quarterback. Suddenly the comparison becomes even easier, but this one should stop before it even gets started.
If Hornibrook keeps his play up, he and Wilson will end up with similar stats. About 3,000 yards, 30 touchdowns and minimal interceptions each. But just because the stats are similar does not mean they are similar quarterbacks.
A telling stat into how a quarterback plays is his average yards per completion. Wilson averaged 14.1 yards per completion in 2011 while Hornibrook is currently averaging almost 15 yards per completion.
While those numbers are very close together as well, the two quarterbacks get to those numbers in completely different ways. This is why the comparison should never be made.
A quarterback’s style of play is how they should get compared to another. Not because their stat line looks relatively close.
Wilson’s style of play was to drop back, run around and avoid defenders and then dump a short pass to a receiver who had room to run. This style, leading to the 14 yards per completion average, worked because Wilson was a dual-threat who rushed for 338 yards and six rushing touchdowns in 2011. Hornibrook is very much the opposite.
The deep ball is the name of the game for Hornibrook, as evidenced in the BYU game. Only five of his 18 completions were for less than 10 yards and three of those five were for nine yards. The stat sheet is littered with a 50-yard pass here, a couple 17-yard passes in a row there, and everything in between.
Hornibrook sits in the pocket and waits to give his receivers time to get downfield. Then, with his accurate deep ball, hits them with bombs.
So no, Hornibrook is not the next Wilson.
Looking to other Wisconsin quarterbacks in recent history, none of them are even as close (if you can call it that) to being compared to Hornibrook.
The next quarterback one can imagine people trying to compare Hornibrook to would be Scott Tolzien. He was the quintessential Wisconsin quarterback; never did more than he had to; could complete nice passes to tight ends; could hand the ball off with out fumbling.
Hornibrook can play at Tolzien’s level or above, with time. Wisconsin, for the first time in what seems like a very long time, has a quarterback that could win games for them purely on his arm and without having to run the ball 60 times a game.
So that leaves us with Joel Stave, and had Stave lived up to his potential, the comparison between Hornibrook and Stave could have been grounded in facts. Alas, though, we are left with the fact that Stave did not live up to his potential. After his solid 2012 season that saw him throw for an average of almost 16 yards per completion and only three interceptions, Stave’s accurate deep ball became just a deep ball. His next three seasons he threw 13, 10 and 11 interceptions and never regained his freshman year form.
Did we just go through all of that to show Hornibrook should not be compared to other past quarterbacks? Yes, in fact, we did.
Comparisons are fun and they can remind us of nostalgic times that have come and gone. People are always trying to find the past in what is happening in the present, and sports is no different. But next time your roommate tells you Hornibrook plays like [insert name of any quarterback], remind them of this.
If Hornibrook keeps this up, no one will have played the way he has to get the stat line he will end up with, in recent Wisconsin history.
Stats courtesy of sports-reference.com