Saturday’s game against Iowa saw an all too familiar start to the game for Wisconsin’s offense: An Alex Hornibrook interception.
It was his seventh straight game with an interception, breaking a program record, and it was also returned by Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson for a touchdown.
This has become a common theme for Wisconsin’s offense as it has begun the previous two games with interceptions. But unlike past games, Hornibrook was unable to bounce back from his early interception and ended up throwing two more.
In fact, Wisconsin’s leading receiver was Iowa’s Jackson who had two catches for two touchdowns (two Hornibrook pick-six’s).
“Not good, you gave them 14 points. That’s something we’ve been battling that all year,” head coach Paul Chryst said of the turnovers by Wisconsin’s offense.
They really have been battling it all year as Hornibrook has thrown 12 interceptions to his 17 touchdowns and star runningback Jonathan Taylor has showed his freshman inexperience by fumbling the ball six times, including twice on Saturday.
Asked if the team works during the week on stopping the offensive turnovers, Chryst frankly said, “yes.”
In terms of the quarterback play, Hornibrook seemed a bit in denial of just how up and down his performance was against Iowa.
“I think, like we’ve done this whole season, we were resilient and were able to turn it around in the second half,” Hornibrook said. “And obviously can’t talk enough about the defense and how amazing they were. They made some great plays for us and definitely helped us win that game.”
The key there is the defense. They were resilient for the offense who turned the ball over in every quarter of the game. The offense never really responded as they spread five turnovers across Iowa’s defense and gave up 14 points.
It would seem as if the offense has become a bit reliant on the defense to compensate for the lack of offensive awareness and slippery hands that the offensive players have.
“Yeah that helped a bunch. Even when we were turning it over, it’s not like they were turning them into scores, our defense was stopping them every time,” Hornibrook said.
The defense had a historic day on Saturday, holding Iowa to a mere 66 total yards of offense and zero points. Wisconsin’s defense has been great this season on their way to being the best in college football, but a performance like Saturday’s cannot be relied on by a stagnant offense.
Despite constant preaching from the coaching staff and players during the week about limiting turnovers, things have only gotten worse for Wisconsin’s offense.
“Nah, we preached all week about not having a lot of turnovers, but our defense really stepped up and really helped us a lot,” running back Bradrick Shaw said.
Not turning the ball over on offense has been a focus in practice week in and week out, but the problems are not fading.
Coming into a match up against Michigan this Saturday, not turning the ball over is a must against the third ranked defense in college football.
Asked if it was too late in the season for a quarterback change, Chryst seemed non-committal and instead avoided answering the question directly.
“You’re always trying to find out how you can help him,” Chryst said. “Certainly there is a theme of the turnovers and they’re all a little bit different.”
Saturday, Wisconsin’s offense will see its best test and if they hope to help the defense pull out a win, limiting turnovers is a must.