One week, he was the King of Mad City; the next, he was her pariah. The truth is probably in the middle there, somewhere.
Inevitably, a college quarterback takes the short trip from GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) to goat, and four games into his Wisconsin Badgers career, Alex Hornibrook has already been there, done that. At breakneck speed.
“Yeah, I think you just kind of take it with a grain of salt,” the redshirt freshman quarterback said Monday. “If you do well, everybody’s going to praise you, even if it wasn’t all because of you … but at the same time, if you do bad, it works the other way around. Just know yourself and know what you’re capable of and don’t let others influence yourself.”
Others say that Saturday’s date with No. 2 Ohio State is a shot at redemption for the young left-hander, especially given his struggles at No. 4 Michigan two weeks earlier: 9-for-25 passing, 88 yards through the air, one touchdown, three interceptions, and more than a few darts that missed the dang board entirely.
“That’s a good opportunity for us to play a team like Ohio State,” Hornibrook said. “And you know, it’s not like one game is going to determine our entire season. We’ve still got more games to play.”
Eyes forward. Calm. Chill. Always. The Pennsylvania native is young and impressionable. But he’s also big into perspective, a stark contrast to the emotional extremes on social media to his first two Big Ten starts.
Week 1: A sunny afternoon in East Lansing, completing 16 of 26 throws to help pace a 30-6 throttling of Michigan State, Wisconsin’s first road win over the Spartans since 2002. Bring on Big Blue!
Week 2: Crapola, gloom and desolation. Where’s Bart Houston when ya need him?
“It was a tough film to watch,” Hornibrook said of a 14-7 setback in Ann Arbor. “But one that definitely could help us get better in the future.”
From the Wolverines pass rush to the acrobatics of Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis, it was a day to flush. Or burn into the back of your skull as a reminder to never, ever, ever, ever, ever let it happen again.
“I think you’ve got to do a little bit of both,” Hornibrook said. “Definitely after the game and this past week, you’ve got to look at it and learn from what you did wrong. So we watched the films, took some notes as to what we did wrong, what we could fix.”
And that was …
“I think the biggest thing,” Hornibrook said, “was just executing and finishing plays.”
That and staying upright. The Badgers’ signal-caller told Land of 10 he took a shot to the ribs early on against the Wolverines, a blow that hampered his comfort and control the rest of the way. And it showed, given that several touch passes — one of the better parts of Hornibrook’s game — went completely awry.
“I took a hit in the chest and I wasn’t able to throw that well after that the rest of the game,” he recalled. “And you know, that kind of set off a couple of other things, and I was playing (hurt). But the main thing is just (to) execute and finish on plays.”
And jumping into the cage with the Buckeyes’ defense isn’t anyone’s idea of a picnic, either. Ohio State is the only FBS school yet to allow a rushing touchdown. The Buckeyes go into the weekend ranked second in scoring defense (10.8) and fourth in total defense (246.4).
Michigan ranks first in both categories — thanks, Rutgers! — at 10.3 and 212.8, respectively. The Badgers (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) are fourth in scoring defense (12.2) and 11th in total defense (291.4 yards per game).
“I watched the game against Indiana (a 38-17 Buckeye win) last weekend, a little bit,” Hornibrook said of Ohio State. “I thought they (and Michigan) are both really good defenses and they’re similar in a couple of ways, with some of the coverages that they play and very good athletes that they trust that can cover.
“So that’s kind of what you see with some bigger programs: They’ve got defensive backs that they trust and put out in man coverage. That’s what they’ve (shown).”
The Buckeyes are the fourth Top-10 team the Badgers have faced already this season, having beaten LSU (16-14) and Michigan State (30-6), and fallen at Michigan. After that many physical tests, eventually, the bruises start to pile up. The trick is not letting them come to a head.
Or get into one’s head.
“I didn’t really think anything of (my ribs) and was just trying to go,” said Hornibrook, who’s thrown for two touchdowns and four picks since replacing Houston in the starting lineup before the Badgers’ Big Ten opener at Michigan State. “I didn’t think anything of it, but it definitely affected how I was throwing the ball.”
Hornibrook met with local reporters Monday and said his ribs felt fine, the healing aided by last week’s open date.
“That bye week was good,” Hornibrook chuckled. “Everyone is rested up and ready to go.”
And coach Paul Chryst doesn’t seem too worried about his young signal-caller’s upper body. Or, for that matter, his mindset:
#Badgers Chryst: “I’m very confident that he’ll be himself and that’s a good ting.” on Alex Hornibrook
— Margaret Naczek (@mnaczek) October 10, 2016
“That’s kind of a big thing with my game and my personality,” Hornibrook said. “Not really looking into too much of what other people are saying, good or bad. Just totally be (true) to myself and my teammates.”
Eyes forward. Calm. Chill. Always. Which is good, given that Urban Meyer hasn’t lost a staring contest in forever. And that the Buckeyes have made it a habit of sapping the will just before they stick their cleats on your neck.