During my Twitter live chat Saturday following the University of Wisconsin’s 24-10 win over Michigan, a reader provided this comment on Alex Hornibrook:
He made three good throws. That’s what should be expected of a college quarterback.
The statement of him making only three good passes on its own is incorrect, but Hornirbook’s performance also can’t simply be judged by just viewing his final stat line of 9 for 19 for 143 yards. There’s not much — outside of taking back the third-quarter interception — that Hornibrook could have done to improve it.
Of his nine incompletions outside of the interception, there weren’t really any he could have realistically turned into something better. On the majority of them, he simply had to throw the ball away immediately to avoid a sack.
By my count, Hornibrook dropped back 25 times in this game. On 12 of those, he was either sacked or forced into throwing or scrambling within two seconds of having the ball in his hand.
Those are just a few examples of many. Even on screen passes, Hornibrook and the Badgers had no time to let them develop.
The Wolverines brought a ton of pressure with more speed off the edge than UW has seen this season, and they threw some confusing looks at the Badgers. Michigan’s players up front were often just better, too. Maurice Hurst dominated Jon Dietzen at times, and that really shouldn’t come as a surprise.
It was always going to be difficult to move the ball consistently on this defense. Saying Hornibrook only made a few good throws is like saying Jonathan Taylor only had a few good runs. Go back and tell me where there were opportunities for him to perform better. There aren’t many.
While it’s difficult to judge without coaches tape, replays revealed there were also plays in which there were no open receivers to throw to. Here are a couple tightly threaded third-down completions (or should-be completions) to covered pass catchers that may go forgotten, both of which came before Hornibrook’s “three good throws."
When receivers did break open, he took advantage. The 51-yard pass and subsequent touchdown to A.J. Taylor were undeniably perfect throws — one of them on a deep ball, an area Hornibrook has shown inconsistency in the past, and another after stepping up to avoid pressure.
If you don’t think Hornibrook played well in this game, you may want to watch it again. And whether some UW fans want to admit it or not, those “three throws” may have saved the Badgers’ season.
— While UW’s pass protection didn’t hold up at times Saturday, the Badgers’ running backs made a few key blocks against the Wolverines.
You can see Rachid Ibrahim, probably the best of the bunch in this area, pick up an edge rusher in the third-down pass to Troy Fumagalli above, but his role in the 51-yard completion that broke the game open is the one that really shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Michigan shows pressure on the left side of the Badgers’ line, and Ibrahim knows he’ll have to get across Hornibrook’s face quickly to take out the free rusher.
I also want to point out one more blitz pickup from Saturday, mainly because of who was making it and the situation in which he was trusted to do so.
With UW backed up on the 1-yard line after a punt in the second quarter, the Badgers went play-action on first down and left Bradrick Shaw to pick up defensive lineman Rashan Gary.
There’s certainly a high degree of risk in calling a play-action from the 1-yard line against a defense that’s been getting after the quarterback all game.
Trusting Shaw in this scenario is almost certainly not something UW would have done last year. Don’t expect him to start taking third-down reps, but it does seem like Shaw has improved in his area. Here’s a clip of Shaw trying to make a very similar block on a defensive end against Illinois last year. He’s more hesitant in his approach and isn’t able to take his man out of the play.
With the emergence of Jonathan Taylor, developing passing-down skills could be big for Shaw if he wants to earn himself more playing time over the next couple years.
— The Badgers rarely ran their three-safety package through its first 10 games this season, but they pulled it out Saturday just about every time Michigan came out in 22 (two backs, two tight ends) or 23 personnel.
By my count, UW had Natrell Jamerson, Joe Ferguson and D’Cota Dixon on the field at the same time for 19 plays Saturday. For every one, Michigan had either one or zero wide receivers on the field.
It helped the Badgers hold a power Michigan running game to 58 yards on 37 attempts — the same Wolverines that ran for a combined 705 yards in recent games against Rutgers and Minnesota — and doubled as a great way to ease D’Cota Dixon back onto the field in his return from a right leg injury.
Dixon typically replaces cornerback Derrick Tindal in this package, and when Dixon makes plays like these, you can see why that switch can really help stop the run.
Michigan did hit a couple big play-action passes against this defense. Dixon appeared to blow a coverage on a tight end late in the second quarter, and UW didn’t account for fullback Khalid Hill when he ran a wheel route early in the third quarter.
In most instances, though, Dixon and Ferguson are able to deal with tight ends in coverage. I don’t know if there will be another game this season where the Badgers feel a heavy dose of this package will be warranted, but give credit to Jim Leonhard for opting for it against the Wolverines.
Here are a couple other notes from re-watching Saturday’s game:
— Kendric Pryor’s touchdown this week slightly differed from his rushing touchdown against Iowa, although it was practically the same play. The play-action and formation were both a bit different, but Tyler Biadasz and Beau Benzschawel still pulled to lead the way for a score.
Here are both plays back-to-back if you’re interested.
— I went in depth on T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly in last week’s film room, so we’re not going to this week. But wow, what a game for that pair. I thought Edwards was particularly dominant, and he showed why he’s deserving of being a finalist for the Butkus Award.