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Can anyone challenge Alex Hornibrook for the starting quarterback job?

A spring practice quarterback question, Wisconsin finds a way against Nebraska and more

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Today is Friday, Feb. 10, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.

Quarterback question

Wisconsin will start spring practice a month from Tuesday. In the days and weeks leading up to the start of the team’s 15 practices, we’ll be taking a look at the biggest questions facing coach Paul Chryst as he begins his third year in Madison.

Will anyone push Alex Hornibrook for the starting quarterback job?

As a redshirt freshman, Hornibrook started nine games, going 7-2, including a pair of top-10 wins. And though he showed his youth and limitations at times, the coaching staff was impressed with what the Pennsylvania native was able to accomplish while throwing for 1,262 yards, nine touchdowns and seven interceptions.

“Couldn’t be more excited about Alex,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said last week. “What he was able to do in his redshirt freshman year is huge. You don’t see that. It’s uncommon. But we’re going to have to have solid depth there.”

It sounded almost as if Rudolph was saying it’s Hornibrook and everyone else, but he stopped short of naming him the starter or labeling it as his job to lose. And that leaves a sliver of hope for redshirt freshman Kare Lyles and true freshman Jack Coan to make a run.

Lyles was an early enrollee last spring but didn’t practice because of hip surgery, so this will be his first chance to really dig into Wisconsin’s offense after running the scout team last fall. Coan, the Gatorade Player of the Year in New York, arrived last month but will get plenty of reps in the spring.

“It’ll elevate that position and provide us depth going into the season. Real depth, not just someone who can go out there and line up,” Rudolph said of the competition. “Somebody with enough knowledge and the ability to learn this spring, go through some good and some bad, (and then) truly have a plan in the summer of how they better approach it to get themselves ready for fall camp. I think it will be really beneficial for us.”

It seems likely, unless Lyles or Coan blow away the coaches or the unforeseen addition of a graduate transfer, that Hornibrook will be under center when Wisconsin opens the season against Utah State. And that’s not a bad thing.

He doesn’t have the strongest arm and isn’t a threat to take off and run when the pocket breaks down, but his experience level, ability to throw with anticipation, deep ball prowess and willingness to take a big hit and still deliver the ball are qualities that the Badgers can win with.

Finding a way

Wisconsin couldn’t hit a shot, turned the ball over 13 times, gave up 20 offensive rebounds and racked up a season-high 25 fouls Thursday night. And yet, somehow, someway, the Badgers found a path to an eighth straight win, this time a 70-69 victory at Nebraska in overtime.

It’s hard not to spew clichés in the wake of games like this. Gritty, hard-fought, scrappy are all terms that come to mind when you consider what the Badgers overcame to take a two-game lead on every other team in the Big Ten. Thirty-six percent shooting, a near buzzer-beater from Nebraska to send the game to overtime and nagging injuries to stars Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes almost sank Wisconsin. But then the ‘Big 3’ of Koenig, Hayes and Ethan Happ came up with huge plays down the stretch.

Koenig banked in a 3-pointer with 1:25 left to tie the game. Hayes would take and make his only 3 of the game with 21 seconds left in OT to give the Badgers a one-point lead and Happ would get the game-winning block with 3 seconds to go.

Coach Greg Gard has said it plenty of times this year, but it was true again on Thursday. You’re going to have nights like the one Wisconsin went through where you struggle to put the ball in the hoop and you have to find other ways to come out on top. It’s what the Badgers have had to do more often than they’d like, but it’s better to learn these lessons while adding one more to the win column.

Showalter stands out

Senior Zak Showalter isn’t considered part of Wisconsin’s ‘Big 3,’ but against Nebraska he was just as important as any of them. Normally asked to slow the other team’s best perimeter player, Showalter did that and much more. He dropped 15 points, grabbed six rebounds and had two steals, while harassing Huskers guard Tai Webster into a 6-of-18 shooting night.

Too often guys like Showalter get forgotten, especially when you have the star power like Wisconsin does this year. But as he’s done in other games this season, Showalter made winning plays. Be it an extra pass, diving on the floor for a loose ball or, like he did against Nebraska, hitting big-time shots in big-time moments.

Dekker and Kaminsky

For the second and final time this year, former Badgers Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker took the court against each other, with Dekker’s Houston Rockets prevailing against Kaminsky’s Charlotte Hornets, 107-95.

They only ended up guarding each other on switches, so the fact Kaminsky outscored Dekker 9-4 really doesn’t mean much. What does, though, is the one time they met at the rim.

It looked like Kaminsky knew even pretending to challenge his former teammate was a bad idea but couldn’t pull off early enough. You can be sure that Dekker has and will continue to hold the dunk over Kaminsky’s head moving forward.

Catching up

  • Wisconsin coach Greg Gard met with the media after the Badgers win at Nebraska. Here’s what he had to say.
  • Sophomore Ethan Happ is among 30 names on the late-season watch list for the Naismith Trophy.
  • From Sean Keeler: What NFL scouts are saying about Wisconsin’s potential draft picks.