MADISON, WI — Twelve games down. Twelve wins in the books. One game in between Wisconsin and the coveted College Football Playoff.
The key to Wisconsin’s success in the do or die Big Ten championship game against No. 8 Ohio State? Possibly the most polarizing and inconsistent player on the Wisconsin team: Alex Hornibrook.
On the season, the sophomore quarterback holds a 63 percent completion percentage for well over 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns. Those are quality, Scott Tolzien in his prime, type numbers many Wisconsin fans should be proud of. The problem, however, is his 13 interceptions and his inconsistency.
Against Minnesota in the Battle for the Axe, Hornibrook completed nearly 80 percent of his passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns. It was similar to his performance against BYU earlier in the season.
But in games like Iowa, which saw him throw three interceptions, and games like Purdue, which saw him throw two interceptions, questions remain if Hornibrook will be able to sustain his recent success.
Ohio State’s defense will do everything it can to make sure Hornibrook reverts to inconsistency.
Safety Jordan Fuller leads the Buckeyes with 57 total tackles and has been a presence up front with 3.0 tackles for loss. In coverage he has proven to have sure hands with his two interceptions on the season, second on the team only to fellow safety Damon Webb, who has three on the season.
Head coach Paul Chryst knows they are facing their toughest opponent of the season.
“Best thing you can say about their defense is that they’re a good defense. They’re playing at a really high level and that’s always a challenge,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said during his weekly press conference.
Nick Bosa, the better of the Bosa brothers (Joey Bosa plays defense end for the Los Angles Chargers), has wrecked havoc from his defensive end position, totaling 6.0 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. About half of the time Bosa is tackling someone, it is behind the line of scrimmage.
The one weak spot in Ohio State’s defense is in their linebacking core.
Linebacker Dante Booker has proven the only decent pass coverage player at linebacker for Ohio State this season. He has one interception to go along with his 5.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks.
To win, Hornibrook and tight end Troy Fumagalli will need to make hay in the passing game.
Against Iowa, one of Ohio State’s two losses, the Buckeye defense gave up 54 yards and two touchdowns to Iowa’s tight end Noah Fant. They failed to cover short tight end passes, especially in the red zone.
Troy Fumagalli, one of the top tight ends in the country, will be sure to see plenty of targets from his quarterback on Saturday.
The rush attack is also something that will give Wisconsin the edge.
Ohio State is ranked 13th in the country in rush defense, giving up only 3.13 yards per carry and 112.8 yards per game on the ground, but their most recent game has shown they are not invincible.
Michigan’s leading rusher was able to muster 6.1 yards per carry.
In their blowout loss to Iowa, the Hawkeyes established the run early, ending with 243 total yards and as a team averaged 6.4 yards per carry.
Heisman candidate Jonathan Taylor will be chomping at the bit as he closes in on Adrian Peterson‘s freshman rush yard record, and will be sure to continue his dominant season.
Even in a game that saw him struggle early on against Minnesota, he still finished averaging 7.5 yards per carry on his way to 149 yards and one touchdown.
After last years let down in the Big Ten Championship, Wisconsin will also be playing with a bit of a chip on its shoulder.
“I’m sure the guys who played last year will take away things from that game like they do every (game),” Chryst said.
But that is not the only chip on Wisconsin’s shoulder.
Aubrun, who has two losses on the season, jumped them in the latest rankings. Ohio State, who is ranked below them, is actually favored in this game. The last time Wisconsin faced Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game, this years seniors were freshman, and the Badgers got blown out of the water. Jonathan Taylor who is averaging over seven yards a carry and closing in on 2,000 rush yards is barely in the Heisman conversation.
And Wisconsin is the least talked about 12-0 team ever in college football history.
But that is exactly how calm, cool and collected Chryst wants it as his team prepares for the biggest game of the season.