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Today is Monday, Sept. 19, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
Wisconsin didn’t have a quarterback controversy.
No, following the Badgers’ 23-17 win over upset-minded Georgia State, it was abundantly clear who should start when the Big Ten season gets underway at Michigan State on Saturday.
It’s Alex Hornibrook, and that’s apparently the way coach Paul Chryst is going.
— Jeff Potrykus (@jaypo1961) September 19, 2016
It’s impossible for anyone that saw the redshirt freshman jump-start a stagnant offense, leading three scoring drives in five chances, to say he’s not deserving of getting the start against the Spartans. Some will say fifth-year senior Bart Houston didn’t do enough to lose the job he’s held for the first three games of the year. And while that might be accurate, it’s also true that Hornibrook did more than enough to take it from him.
Just look at the numbers. An offense that had six points in six drives with Houston at the controls then piled up 17 points in 1 1/2 quarters under Hornibrook’s leadership. And in the nine drives he’s led this year, five have resulted in touchdowns, one with a field goal, one with an interception that wasn’t his fault and two with kneel-downs to end the game.
Along with Houston’s propensity to force the football into areas he shouldn’t, his lack of touch on deeper throws hurts an offense that needs to be able to push the ball downfield when teams are ganging up on the running game.
That happens to be a strength of Hornibrook’s, which he showed off on a 29-yard completion to tight end Kyle Penniston on what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown drive.
ICYMI: Alex Hornibrook puts @BadgerFootball ahead.
That was a close one.
— Wisconsin On BTN (@WisconsinOnBTN) September 17, 2016
Yes, the competition — Akron and Georgia State — Hornibrook faced is not at the level of what the Badgers will see over their next five games, but he gives Wisconsin the best chance to come out of those games with victories, even if he’s thrown a total of 17 passes in his college career.
From the outside, coach Paul Chryst’s decision appeared clear. It had to be Hornibrook. And by making that call, it gives Wisconsin the greatest chance to capitalize on its best start to a season since 2011.
Mixed bag in the polls
Pollsters apparently were not as down about Wisconsin’s struggles with Georgia State as some fans were. The Badgers dropped two spots in the AP Top 25 to No. 11, while actually jumping up to No. 10 in the Amway Coaches Poll after being ranked 12th last week.
Ever since Wisconsin beat then-No. 5 LSU on opening weekend, there has been an argument whether its jump from unranked to top 10 was justified. While it certainly appeared that way after dismantling Akron 54-10 the following week, the struggles against an 0-3 Georgia State team once again has people questioning how good Chryst’s second team in Madison really is.
Those questions almost certainly will be answered this week when the Badgers travel to No. 8 Michigan State, which is coming off an impressive road win at Notre Dame. In fact, Wisconsin’s next three opponents — the Spartans, Michigan and Ohio State — are all ranked among the top eight teams in the AP Top 25.
A 2-1 or 3-0 record would be a huge win for the team. Conversely, an 0-3 record would lead many to forget that win against LSU and give those that questioned athletic director Barry Alvarez’s hiring of Chryst — despite a .500 record while the head coach at Pittsburgh — ammunition to suggest that his 13-3 record to this point has been more about the teams he’s faced rather than his ability to lead and win big games at his alma mater.
It’s not hyperbole to say this is the biggest three-game stretch Wisconsin has faced since Alvarez resurrected the program in the early 1990s.
A close game is a good thing?
Is beating a 35-point underdog by six points a good thing? That was the message some of Wisconsin’s players were trying to tell, as explained by Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal, as well as when a few took to Twitter after the game.
That dub is all that matters !!! 3-0 ???
— Sojourn Shelton II (@_SDS8) September 17, 2016
All I care about is that getting that W
— JP (@JazzPeavy) September 17, 2016
The idea being, of course, that any win is a good win. That the Badgers were able to overcome injuries, miscues and a fourth-quarter deficit is proof — at least in the players’ minds — that they are now experienced in adversity. That the defense got the stops it needed showed it could come through in the big moments, just like it had against LSU.
In reality, every one of those players would have much rather gone out and blown out Georgia State like they had Akron the week before. That it didn’t happen can do one of two things to a team. It will either lead to an even more dogged approach in preparing for Michigan State or it will deliver a significant shot to their confidence. With this team, it’s likely the former.
Badgers support Koenig
Wisconsin guard Bronson Koenig followed through with plans to go to North Dakota over the weekend to the site where Native Americans are protesting the building of an oil pipeline that would impact land they consider sacred.
As illustrated in this video from MyNDNow.com, Koenig, as a Native American, had an immense impact on the kids who attended his free basketball camp.
That he was willing to make the 12-hour drive from Madison is to be commended, as is Wisconsin’s support of the senior.
— The Players' Tribune (@PlayersTribune) September 18, 2016
Stand up for what you believe in. https://t.co/pwWdFMTp4K
— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) September 18, 2016
The tweet seems like a small gesture, but it continues a trend of Wisconsin backing its athletes and not muzzling them like some schools do. While certain coaches and programs initiate Twitter bans, the Badgers provide social media training and forums where social issues can be discussed among athletes with diverse backgrounds. It’s a sign of trust that has yet to truly be broken in any sense, and it’s the way more schools should treat their athletes.
College is a time for growth and to learn about the issues that ignite your passion. For Koenig, it’s supporting those that have backed him during his life and his career. And it’s good to see that Wisconsin, without getting involved in the politics of the issue, can offer the simple message of standing up for what you believe.