Madison, Wis. — The Wisconsin Badgers are well-equipped to shatter perceptions about their offense this year.
Focusing on just slowing down Heisman Trophy candidate Jonathan Taylor on the ground might be a risky proposition for the rest of the Big Ten.
The Badgers are loaded at receiver, capable of putting four proven playmakers out wide at the same time. And that’s not even counting a more concerted effort to get Taylor more involved in the passing game in his sophomore season.
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook is in an enviable position.
“I couldn’t tell you the full potential,” the typically level-headed Hornibrook said about the offense after practice Tuesday.
He’s cautious with his words, just like even-keeled coach Paul Chryst.
The Badgers, though, could have more spice on the field. The 34-24 win in the Orange Bowl over Miami offers proof.
An up-and-down year for Hornibrook marked by productive play in the red zone and head-scratching interceptions ended with the best game of his career. He showed poise in the pocket, made impressive back-shoulder throws and fired darts into tight windows.
Hornibrook finished 23 of 34 for 258 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Then-freshman receiver Danny Davis caught three scores.
Offensive lineman Michael Deiter said Hornibrook made a “huge step up” in the bowl game.
“I think it was just huge in his feel,” Deiter said. “It just felt like was having a little more fun and just making the perfect throws and just feeling it … He’s always had it in him.”
Hornibrook also has more experience at receiver this season.
A year ago at camp, Hornibrook was working with a primarily young receiving corps. Quintez Cephus and A.J. Taylor had to move into more prominent roles. Kendric Pryor was a redshirt freshman, while Davis had to play catch-up as a true freshman after joining the squad in fall camp.
An injury to senior Jazz Peavy opened up more playing time for the young receivers. They stepped up and produced.
Now wideout is a position of strength. Hornibrook can build on a year of rapport with the receivers.
“Just because we’ve been around here a little bit longer as a group, everybody knows what they’re doing so we can focus on some other things and grow in places that maybe we weren’t able to last year because we working on just getting the playbook down,” Hornibrook said.
Cephus is healthy again after breaking his right leg in November. With a solid, 6-foot-1 frame, the junior excels at making tough grabs in the red zone. Davis can focus on mastering all the receiver positions and taking extra throws from his quarterback.
“Sometimes we take for granted that he just got here. He was just a freshman,” Hornibrook said about Davis’ inaugural season. “He’s one of the most athletic catchers that I’ve seen with the football.”
Hornibrook also has the benefit of working behind an experienced, proven offensive line. Just the right number of three-step drops and play-action passes can make a defense think twice about concentrating on Taylor and the running game.
The Badgers have the potential firepower to rival the 2011 team led by quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Montee Ball that averaged 470 yards in total offense.
“I know that we’re working, we’ve taken strides the last couple weeks,” Hornibrook said. “I’m not putting a cap on (the offense’s potential) but I feel great with all these guys and I feel great with the offense.”