Before you pull your Bart Houston replica jerseys out of the back of the closet and storm the social media gates, keep this in mind: The only thing Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich., told us with any and absolute certainty is that …
- Michigan’s defense is unreal (which we knew);
- Wisconsin’s defense is unreal (which we also knew);
- Alex Hornibrook is a freshman.
And we kinda knew that, too.
Granted, Wisconsin’s young quarterback picked the absolute wrong place to have one of those freshman afternoons where the stage looks a little too big, the river a little too deep, the mountain a little too high.
Although when the guys on the other side of the line can do this …
Video: Jourdan Lewis picks off Alex Hornibrook in ridiculous fashion, seals victory for Wolverines https://t.co/FMn6RnTLFt
— College Football (@CFB) October 1, 2016
… you start running out of caps to tip.
So the eighth-ranked Badgers left Michigan Stadium with a moral victory when they could smell a tangible, Earth-shaking one. Bucky fell, 14-7, to the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines in a throwback slugfest/puntfest for the ages that left neither fan base particularly thrilled once the dust finally settled.
The hosts could point to three missed field goals, nine points left on the field that might have more accurately reflected their domination at the point of attack — 23-7 or 20-7 over a good Wisconsin side looks a hell of a lot better to the pollsters than 14-7 and Katie bar the door. It’s the sort of special-teams blight that could have cost them Saturday and might very well bite Big Blue on the behind against another Big Ten heavyweight.
And make no mistake: The Badgers are still partying at the penthouse level, despite Hornibrook being all over the map (9-for-25, 88 yards passing) and a running game that still isn’t up to Barryesque standards (28 carries, 71 yards).
The combo of defense and a good running game travels well — always has, always will. When Wisconsin brings both sides of the equation to the party, it can take out anybody, anywhere. But when it’s only one half of the formula, as was the case Saturday — the Badgers’ defense repeatedly kept the visitors within shouting distance, allowing only 349 yards to Michigan and just three-of-15 third-down opportunities — it’s damn hard to keep that ox cart out of the ditch.
“When you put it all out there – everyone in this locker room did (Saturday) – and it doesn’t go your way, it stings,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst told reporters after the game. “But we’ve got something special here.”
They do, despite the heartache. The Badgers (4-1) wanted to walk out of Ann Arbor with a win. And a Top 5 ranking. They walked out with respect. And a mission that still hasn’t changed.
So the glass in Mad City is half-something after the Badgers’ first loss, depending on how the locals choose to digest it. On one hand, without your most ballyhooed outside linebacker and pass-rusher in senior Vince Biegel, you were tied at Michigan Stadium until the final eight minutes of the contest. You held a machine that had been averaging 52 points per game to 14. And an attack that had been gaining 468 per game to 349.
On the other hand …
What happened 2 both QB’s being needed? Alex Hornibrook cost his team any chance to win. POOR COACHING/POOR EXECUTION!!! #BADGERS
— Fred J. Schulze (@fredj63) October 1, 2016
Hate to say it but if we get the ball back, Houston has to be our QB #Badgers
— Tim Follis (@Timmer_Follis33) October 1, 2016
BART HOUSTON SHOULD BE IN THE DAMN GAME!!!!!!!!!! #Badgers
— Tanner Dorow (@TDorow10) October 1, 2016
Fun fact: Michigan came in allowing 147 passing yards per game, 10th in the country. Another: Their first four opponents had managed to complete only 49 percent of their passing attempts.
Also, Big Blue has defensive backs who can do this:
— Barack O’Nana (@SirNanablog) October 1, 2016
Would Houston, the Badgers’ senior backup, have taken some gristle off the rough edges? Maybe. Would he have changed the bottom line? Probably not.
“There’s a couple balls, when (Hornibrook) looks back, that he’ll want to have back,” Chryst told reporters.
The touch that had served the left-hander so well at Michigan State and against Georgia State and Akron was nullified by a nasty Wolverines pass rush. Most of his throws had too much air on them and subsequently sailed to Heaven knows where. The Badgers’ boundary receivers don’t have the speed of their contemporaries at, say, Ohio State — a fact that Wolverines defensive coordinator Don Brown knew only too well.
Michigan’s defense is a house of pain at pretty much every level, and a still relatively young Wisconsin offensive line and a banged-up Corey Clement (17 rushes, 68 yards) weren’t able to take the weight off their young signal-caller’s shoulders. Especially when he needed it most.
Case in point: A blow-by-blow of the Badgers’ results on first down in the second half:
minus-3 yard run
Total: nine plays, 21 net yards gained, 2.3 yards per attempt.
In other words, Hornibrook had help. Or rather, in this case, not nearly enough.