Hornibrook remains on a learning curve
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The two poor choices Alex Hornibrook made in Wisconsin's victories over Nebraska and Purdue have been highlighted, critiqued and debated at length.
Both resulted in costly interceptions.
Nebraska's Aaron Williams turned a late throw to the sideline into a 14-yard return for a touchdown to help the Cornhuskers forge a 17-17 tie early in the third quarter.
Purdue's Danny Ezechukwu turned a forced pass on a screen that had no chance to succeed into a 38-yard return to set up a field goal that allowed the Boilermakers to pull within eight points late in the third quarter.
How have those gaffes affected Hornibrook, who is preparing to lead No. 5 UW (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) against Maryland (3-3, 1-2) on Saturday?
“It is all correctable stuff,” he said, “so I'm not going to let it hang over me.”
If it appears the redshirt sophomore moves on quickly after making a mistake, he does.
After the interception against Nebraska, UW drove 93 yards in 10 plays for the go-ahead touchdown.
UW passed just twice on the drive, but both were third-down plays and Hornibrook converted both times with throws to wide receiver Quintez Cephus.
The first play was a 31-yard gain to the Nebraska 24 on third and 4. The second came four plays later on third and goal from the 5. Hornibrook hit Cephus, who faced single coverage and beat his man cleanly to the inside for the touchdown.
Hornibrook's two biggest throws in the victory over Purdue came on UW's final series, again both on third down.
The first came with UW facing third and 12 from the 11 on the third play of the drive. Hornibrook fired a bullet to wide receiver Kendric Pryor, who was bracketed by two defenders in zone coverage, for 20 yards.
The second came on third and 6 from the Purdue 37. Hornibrook found Cephus on a quick out and Cephus, who had run his route short of the first-down marker, fought through two defenders to pick up the first down.
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Hornibrook's performance in the red zone and on third down this season has been superb.
Hornibrook has completed 14 of 20 attempts (70.0%) for 142 yards with eight touchdowns and no interceptions in the red zone.
“It is just the details,” senior tight end Troy Fumagalli said or the red-zone numbers. “Coach (Paul) Chryst is a mastermind when it comes to the offense and the passing game, especially red zone and third downs.
“And Alex loves to learn. He loves to come in and work. It is that combination — everything is on point. They both care. I don't think there is a secret to it. It is being consistent, practicing a bunch and caring about it.”
On third down Hornibrook has completed 28 of 46 attempts (60.9%) for 449 yards and 22 first downs with six touchdowns and two interceptions. That is an efficiency rating of 177.2, which is No. 3 nationally among FBS quarterbacks with at least 30 attempts. Georgia's Jake Fromm (208.7) leads the way, followed by Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph (207.8).
“Third down for a quarterback, that is probably the most pressure he has,” left tackle Michael Deiter said. “He has delivered. That is what I expect out of him and that is what he expects out of himself.
“He just tightens it down and really focuses. Not to say he isn't focused on first and second down. I just think that little bit of pressure doesn't bother him. He hits it right in the face.”
Hornibrook's overall completion rate of (65.6%) is up from last season (58.6%). He is averaging 201.7 yards per game, up from last season's 105.2. He has more touchdown passes (11) in six games than he did in 12 games last season (nine).
His interception rate is one every 20.8 attempts. That is an increase from last season's mark of one every 25.9 attempts.
Despite the fact UW has won three games with a negative turnover margin, Chryst has emphasized the need to cut down on turnovers.
“We have to take care of the ball,” Chryst said.
That is the next step for Hornibrook, whose play on third down and in the red zone has helped UW average 36.3 points per game, the No. 3 mark in the Big Ten.
“I just think he works really hard at it,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. “He puts a lot of time in and I think that gives him a lot of confidence on game day. He grinds at it and works at it.”