Wisconsin Football: All eyes on Alex Hornibrook vs. Illinois

After an abysmal performance against Michigan, Alex Hornibrook needs to show he still has what it takes to win important games for the Wisconsin football program.

Illinois isn’t going to be much of a challenge for Wisconsin football this weekend. Just like Western Kentucky, New Mexico, and BYU weren’t. Wait…

Not many people can say they’re content with where the program is right now. I certainly can’t. The Badgers still eventually rolled over two out of those three non-conference cupcakes after a start that was slower than desired. If we’re being honest, the game against Illinois this weekend will be much of the same.

Wisconsin hasn’t shown it has the true power to blow anybody out for four whole quarters this year. That doesn’t mean the Badgers can’t still crush Illinois. It’ll just take a while for them to settle in.

The real story here isn’t how the team performs against Illinois though. Everybody will be watching how Alex Hornibrook rebounds. His game against Michigan is something he’s sure to forget. He completed 7-20 passes for only 100 yards with two interceptions. Good enough for a QBR of 0.7. That’s on a scale of 100, by the way. His play has been controversial for some time among Badger fans. Now, it’s the biggest storyline surrounding the team.

I like Hornibrook as a player. I think he’d be a cool guy to hang out with off the field too. But even I have pushed my unwavering support of him to the side until further notice. Hornibrook needs to play a clean game this weekend. It’s very likely the coaching staff thinks so too. He won’t be able to blow anybody away against Illinois, but he can do a lot to repair his image.

I’m not expecting a dominant performance from him. Wisconsin will stick to its roots and win by running the football. There’s no way Hornibrook has to air it out more than 25 times this game. I would even bet he doesn’t throw it more than 20 times. That just isn’t necessary this game. And frankly, it’s not the best thing for him either. He’s not going to regain his confidence by beating up on Illinois. The true test will come in two weeks on the road against Northwestern.

But to have even a shred of confidence going to Evanston, he needs to look good Saturday in Madison. I don’t want to imagine what another week would look like if Hornibrook doesn’t play well against Illinois, of all teams.

The perfect game for Hornibrook has him completing about 9 of 12 passes for around 150 yards with at least a touchdown and zero interceptions. Pretty much what he did against New Mexico, minus the pick. The running game will do the rest. If he does that, the buzzing for Jack Coan will die down for at least another seven days. Anything less and I can’t make any promises.

The one thing that Hornibrook absolutely cannot afford to do is throw an interception. The Wisconsin fan base is as passionate as they come. They’ve followed this program for decades now and have hardly had reason to voice concern. But times might be changing.

If Hornibrook turns it over, all bets are off. We’ll see just how passionate this fan base can get about something it believes in. And at that point, Paul Chryst’s hand might be forced.