Madison, Wis.— Backup quarterback Alex Hornibrook led No. 9 Wisconsin to three scoring drives in the second half, helping the sluggish Badgers avert an embarrassing upset with a 23-17 win on Saturday over Georgia State.
Hornibrook took over for Bart Houston late in the third quarter with Wisconsin stuck in an offensive malaise. The freshman finished 8 of 12 for 122 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Penniston with 7:25 left to give the Badgers the lead for good, 20-17.
Wisconsin (3-0) heads into Big Ten play next week at No. 12 Michigan State with questions at quarterback. Houston, a senior making his third career start, was 10 of 18 for 91 yards.
“I’m proud of what Alex did, and how he came in. I’m not planning anything right now except appreciating this win,” coach Paul Chryst said.
Georgia State (0-3) played well after losing its first two games by a combined 79-35.
Conner Manning threw for a career-high 269 yards and a score. Kyler Neal’s 9-yard touchdown run with 11:36 left gave the Panthers a brief lead before the Badgers defense reasserted itself.
“Our kids fought every down. There are no moral victories for Georgia State. I’m very disappointed,” coach Trent Miles said.
The Panthers can build on a respectable effort against a Big Ten power after losing to Ball State and Air Force in its first two games. With two of Wisconsin’s top running backs hurt, a defense that was allowing an FBS-worst 394.5 yards rushing per game gave up just 187 on Saturday. On offense, coach Miles’ team softened up Wisconsin’s rough-and-tumble defense with quick and short passes over the middle.
Don’t put the blame for Wisconsin’s early offensive problems solely on Houston.
The Badgers need to work on their offense inside the 30 after having to settle for two field goals on two first-quarter drives. They came away scoreless on two other drives after losing a fumble near the goal line and missing a 30-yard field goal at the end of the first half.
“We just weren’t in rhythm. That’s it,” Houston said.
Starting tight end Troy Fumagalli and running back Taiwan Deal both left with right leg injuries after Wisconsin’s first drive, and the team was already without top running back Corey Clement, who sat after rolling his left ankle in the 54-10 win over Akron on Sept. 10.