I know what you are thinking. The last thing I want to do right now is to try and look on the brighter side of things. And after an almost comeback win against Ohio State, that “almost” really stands out.
The lone blemish on the season thus far is a tough pill to swallow knowing the Wisconsin Badgers were a mere seven points away from their first ever playoff appearance.
Wisconsin’s defense uncharacteristically gave up big play after big play (three plays of 50 yards or more) and allowed Ohio State running back J.K Dobbins to shred them for 10 yards a carry on his way to 174 yards and a touchdown.
Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook could not connect on a screen pass to save his life, partly due to his foot work and partly due to the speed at which the Ohio State defensive front was closing in on him.
Danny Davis, Wisconsin’s true freshman receiver made an incredible grab in the game, as he has done all season but failed to get open on the game’s final drive.
It was a brutal, gut wrenching loss. But none the less, we dive into the takeaways from Wisconsin’s 12-1 season so far.
Hornibrook has work to do
Coming into the season, the story was how the sophomore quarterback had found some zip on his passes, something he lacked in his freshman season. Optimism was high and expectations were raised for the second year starter.
Things started out pretty good for Hornibrook, highlighted by an almost perfect game against BYU. Things quickly went down hill for him as he had eight straight games with an interception.
The worst of it came against Iowa, when Hornibrook threw two pick-sixes and a total of three interceptions.
Fans had basically lost all faith in their quarterback as the defense and running game were the only things keeping this team undefeated.
Still though, he kept showing flashes. Coming back from an interception and throwing amazing passes to A.J. Taylor in the Michigan game, doing the same with Danny Davis in the Championship game and picking apart Minnesota with ease.
None the less, his season stats sit on a 61 percent completion percentage, 21 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He also totaled 2,386 yards on the season.
The 61 percent completion percentage becomes less impressive remembering the amount of easy, wide open and short throws that Hornibrook failed to complete.
Luckily for Wisconsin, he has time to grow and make his flashes more than just flashes.
Hornibrook has the weapons
One thing that will help his process of growing at the quarterback position is his amazing and young receiving core.
It is lead by sophomore Quintez Cephus, who has been out for the season since the game against Indiana. Even so, he still leads receivers on the team in total yards with 501 on the season. He also leads the group in receptions and touchdowns with 30 and six respectively.
Not to be out shined, Danny Davis has lived up to the hype of being labeled the best receiver ever recruited to Wisconsin.
The freshman has consistently made Hornibrook look great, making diving catches, one handed catches and jump balls. Despite missing major time earlier in the season, Davis has totaled 362 yards and two touchdowns.
Sophomores A.J. Taylor and Kendric Pryor have also made their presence known as well. Taylor has four touchdowns on the season, and Pryor has made his presence felt with his speed showing flashes of the Jazz Peavy sweep play.
There is no doubt, Hornibrook will have one of the most talented receiving groups in Wisconsin history when the team takes the field next season.
Oh, and don’t forget about that one running back Jonathan Taylor who casually is closing in on 2,000 yards as a freshman and is averaging almost seven yards a carry on the season.
Defense primed for another great season
All season, Wisconsin’s defense was winning them games and were the biggest reason for their 12-0 start.
Even with major injuries limiting their depth, players stepped up and stepped in to move Wisconsin to becoming the best defense in college football this season.
But several key players will be leaving this after this season. Garret Dooley, Natrell Jamerson, Derrick Tindal, Leon Jacobs, Jack Cichy, Alec James and Connor Sheehy are all moving on after this senior year.
Possibly the biggest blow is to the secondary, losing both Tindal and Jamerson. But, D’Cota Dixon, Wisconsin’s best safety for the past two seasons, will be coming back fully healthy this next season and Nick Nelson has proven to possibly be the best cornerback in the conference.
Cichy, who is only a junior and has been injured the whole season with an ACL tear, will most likely forego his senior year and enter the draft. Fellow standout linebacker Leon Jacobs will also be leaving as he is a senior.
But again, the stars of this year’s linebacking crew will be coming back. T.J. Edwards is effective rushing the passer and also playing in pass coverage as he has four interceptions on the year.
Ryan Connelly has quickly become one of the best players on the Wisconsin defense, leading the team in tackles and totaling 11 tackles for loss and three sacks on the year.
Every year and every season (due to injury) the Wisconsin defense seemingly loses out on their best players. But the defense, even with new coordinators every other year, has maintained success year in and year out.
With some of the best players returning, expect Jim Leonard’s defense to be just as exceptional next season.