In what was perhaps the biggest game of Alex Hornibrook’s career last year, the then-sophomore came up just short. Unable to lead a touchdown drive in the final minutes, Hornibrook and the Badgers fell to Ohio State 27–21 in the Big Ten Championship Game, ending Wisconsin’s perfect season and eliminating them from College Football Playoff contention.
Hornibrook ended the game with 229 passing yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions. Despite a usually run-heavy attack with Heisman candidate Jonathan Taylor, Hornibrook actually racked up more yards than his counterpart JT Barrett who had 211 yards, two touchdowns and two picks. But Hornibrook had 14 more attempts than Barrett and was plagued by his inability to punch the ball into the end zone all game apart from a Fumagalli two-point conversion.
With Hornibrook’s 20–3 overall record, we know the QB can win, but after the Big Ten Championship, many fans were left wondering whether he could ever win the game. Then came the Orange Bowl.
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On a late December night in Miami, Hornibrook looked like a completely different quarterback than what we saw just weeks earlier. Composed and willing to make the deep pass, Hornibrook had the biggest game of his career, going 23/34 for 258 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions en route to winning Orange Bowl MVP.
When he hasn’t been showcasing his singing talents this offseason, the quarterback has kept busy improving his craft. Just a few weeks ago, Hornibrook won the Manning Passing Academy throwing competition against other top college QBs like Jake Browning of Washington, Jalen Hurts of Alabama and Jake Fromm of Georgia.
But it was Wisconsin’s own lefty gunslinger that came out on top with a tough pass barely nipping the inside of the tire target.
For Hornibrook, the event was also an opportunity to ask questions with the Manning family. Brother’s Peyton, Eli, Cooper and father Archie Manning had plenty of experience to share with the college passer. Peyton and Eli are both two-time Super Bowl Champions, Cooper was wideout for Ole Miss and their father quarterbacked the New Orleans Saints throughout the 1970s.
“I was starstruck just being in the same room with Peyton,” Hornibrook said in a conversation with UW athletics.
Hornibrook used the opportunity to pick the quarterbacks’ brains whenever possible, asking questions on how to execute goal-line fades and better use leverage in those situations.
But the event also gave Hornibrook a chance to interact with his peers at the quarterback position, playing alongside 10 quarterbacks from the SEC among former national champions and Heisman hopefuls like Hurts and Browning.
Though he’s starting to gain the pedigree of some of these quarterbacks, Hornibrook knows he needs to accomplish more.
“We don’t want to be the same team that we were last year. We want to be better. We’ll use what we had in the past and keep growing on that,” Hornibrook said to UW Athletics.
With a plethora of returning starters, Hornibrook has the talent around him in 2018 to cement a legacy in Wisconsin football lore. We’ll have to wait and see this season if the QB can lead the game-winning drive or come up just short once again.