MADISON, Wis. – Bart Houston throws with his right hand. Alex Hornibrook, with his left. Houston is a fifth-year senior from Dublin, Calif. Hornibrook, a redshirt freshman, hails from West Chester, Pa.
Wisconsin’s quarterbacks are on opposite ends of most spectrums, but one is far more crucial than others for Badgers center Michael Deiter.
“Bart is a really good euchre player,” Deiter said. “Alex thinks he’s a really good euchre player, but he’s actually pretty bad at it.”
Deiter joins a group of Badgers who play cards every Friday night on the road and his choice for a partner is obvious, but the same can’t be said for his starting quarterback. That’s head coach Paul Chryst’s trump to call, although so far all he has done is renege.
Both have seen time through three games — Houston with the majority, including three starts — but Chryst gave the nod to Hornibrook for Wisconsin’s Big Ten opener at Michigan State on Saturday.
The limited sample size makes it hard to know how impactful the differences between Houston and Hornibrook are. It’s clear the differences are there, though, and they’re stark— like the one between winning and losing.
Hornibrook is young, and it finally showed Tuesday. When a group of reporters asked if he would be starting Saturday — an announcement that wasn’t officially made until Thursday — he said the one thing he was probably instructed not to say:
“That’s what I’ve heard, yup.”
He excused himself briefly from the interview to consult the athletic communications staff on answers to the inevitable follow-ups and came back with Chryst’s message from the previous day.
“Coach is getting us both ready to go.”
Asked to bail his team out against Georgia State in front of nearly 80,000 fans, the kid didn’t flinch.
We’ll chalk up this slip to youthful exuberance.
That’s not to say Houston couldn’t have done the same thing. In fact, according to Deiter, he is the likelier of the two to be candid — especially when it’s least expected.
“I had a bad snap against USC (during last year’s Holiday Bowl) when Bart came in for Joel (Stave) for a few plays, and he made fun of me for it,” Deiter said. “I’d do that to someone else, so I thought it was hilarious.
“Most people wouldn’t do that midgame, but he turned around and grilled me for it, and I forgot about the bad snap.”
Hornibrook is more calculated on the field. He’s intentional and concise with his words in the huddle — the play call, followed by a quick, “Let’s go, guys” — and equally thoughtful with his passing.
Brandon Williams, former Wisconsin All-America wide receiver and NFL alum, said Hornibrook never takes a snap without a plan in place.
“Alex is very cerebral,” Williams told Landof10 over the phone. “You can see he understands the game even at a very young age.”
Williams compared the two quarterbacks to himself and Lee Evans, another of Wisconsin’s former wide receivers and Williams’ teammate. Williams was outspoken, and Evans processed things internally. Williams showed a range of moves while Evans stuck to traditional routes.
In other words, one danced, and one didn’t.
“Some guys crack jokes and dance on the field, which is how I was,” Williams said. “Some guys just go out and play and don’t say much.”
Between hosting shows on ESPN Wisconsin and appearing on the Big Ten Network, Williams makes it to Badgers practices to see the quarterbacks’ techniques up close.
“Bart has that laid-back, Cali gun-slinging thing,” he said. “And Alex throws the receiver open as opposed to waiting for him to get there.”
But the throw shouldn’t affect the catch, Williams said. Wisconsin wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore won’t allow it to.
And anyone who dares to find a big difference between a ball from a lefty (Hornibrook) and a righty (Houston) better keep his struggles to himself.
“That’s nonsense,” Gilmore said with a laugh. “Catch the ball. That’s what I’m saying to them.
“I don’t know a quarterback who, if a guy don’t make that play, won’t throw it to the next guy.”
The quarterback-receiver connection might see the most action it has all season against the Spartans. The Badgers, who typically favor their run game, listed three of their four game-tested running backs as questionable for Saturday — Dare Ogunbowale being the only one left off the injury report.
Michigan State also happens to have the eighth-ranked run defense in the country.
Deiter, a sophomore, knows better than most what Hornibrook should expect Saturday. He started all 13 games last season as a redshirt freshman.
“(Starting early) only helps you grow as a player,” Deiter said.
Call Hornibrook young, but don’t say he’s green — especially during Michigan State week.
This isn’t the first and won’t be the last big game he will play in.
“It’s all about the experience,” Deiter added. “You get thrown into the fire, which is kind of scary, but really cool. It forces you to grow up fast and forces you to see things you didn’t think you could see yet.”
Badgers QBs at a glance
Alex Hornibrook, 12
Class: Redshirt freshman
Hometown: West Chester, Pa.
High school: Malvern Prep
Season stats: 13 completions on 17 attempts for 183 yards and 2 touchdowns
Bart Houston, 13
Class: Fifth-year senior
Hometown: Dublin, Calif.
High school: De La Salle
Season stats: 44 completions on 71 attempts for 527 yards and 2 touchdowns