The University of Wisconsin has a Heisman Trophy candidate at running back and a defense lauded as one of the best in the country. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook's often criticized for interceptions, but like in Saturday’s 24-10 victory over Michigan, he also grabs headlines for the way he shakes them off.
The Badgers’ group of young wide receivers feel like it’s their turn for the spotlight.
"People kind of sleep on us — me, A.J. (Taylor) and Danny (Davis),” redshirt freshman receiver Kendric Pryor said. "It’s time for people to start realizing what we can do out there. ... We’re trying to showcase what we can do, and it’s time for people to start noticing."
The trio became a major reason why fifth-ranked UW (11-0, 8-0) remained in the College Football Playoff race Saturday. All three made at least one key play during consecutive touchdown drives Saturday that pulled the Badgers out of an offensive funk and ahead of the Wolverines.
Trailing 10-7 late in the third quarter, Taylor beat his man on a go route down the left sideline for a 51-yard gain on third-and-13. It moved UW to the Michigan 18-yard line, the first time all game the Badgers advanced past the Wolverines’ 47.
Three plays later, on third-and-16, Taylor won another one-on-one matchup to free himself for a 24-yard touchdown.
"We say it all the time — we can do this,” said Taylor, a sophomore, of UW’s receivers. "We can be playmakers. We can set the spark. That’s all we want to do. That’s all we try to do."
Davis, a true freshman, came down with a tightly-contested 27-yard catch on third-and-8 during the Badgers’ next drive, one play before Pryor scored on a 32-yard end around.
That put UW up 21-10 with 24 seconds left in the third quarter, just minutes after its offense looked hopeless to score any points against Michigan’s stingy defense.
“Those are some guys that love to compete and love playing football, so when one guy makes a play, the other ones get antsy because he wants to make a play himself,” Hornibrook said. "I know they’re going to do everything they can to go get the ball for me, and they made a lot of plays today."
All three are playing bigger roles than anticipated this season. Senior Jazz Peavy, UW's No. 1 wide receiver, had a rough start to the year and left the team last month for personal reasons. Sophomore Quintez Cephus, this year’s breakout star, suffered a season-ending right leg injury two weeks ago at Indiana.
They all played well in Cephus’ absence last week in a 38-14 win over Iowa, too. Pryor scored two touchdowns, Taylor added another and Davis converted two third downs on a game-clinching touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
"People keep asking us who’s going to step up and all those type of questions,” Pryor said. "Who’s going to step up? (Cephus) is gone, who’s going to do this? Who’s going to do that? And I just feel like (Saturday) we showcased that we can go out there and make big-time plays."