Big Ten: Hornibrook-led Wisconsin offense should be special

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Running back Jonathan Taylor gained just under 2,000 yards and had 13 touchdowns last season, his freshman season at Wisconsin.

There is plenty to like about the Wisconsin offense, especially quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who will be starting for third consecutive year and has been seasoned by experience.

His last performance was a strong one in the Orange Bowl, which seemingly wiped out a poor showing against Ohio State in the conference title game. Hornibrook, a redshirt junior, threw for four touchdowns in the Badgers’ victory over Miami and he was named the game’s most valuable player.

Hornibrook, along with a solid group of offensive linemen, a strong backfield led by sophomore back Jonathan Taylor and receivers — despite recent suspensions — gives Wisconsin the edge again in the Big Ten West division. The defense returns four starters and the secondary could be shaky, but it is the Badgers’ offense that will be key, especially play from the quarterbacks.

“There's a lot of things that I admire about Alex, and one of those is his desire to be the best he can be,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. “And he truly is that. He's a great worker. He's a really good teammate. Our players like him. He likes our team, his teammates.

“And you do, you appreciate the way that Alex works. And certainly now he's had a number of experiences and done a lot of good things in those. And certainly there's areas in every part of his game, just like any other player, that he can get better at, but he works at it. And he's fun to be around with. And I'm fortunate for the time we've had, and I look forward to this year and being around him and hopefully helping him to continue to grow.

“ He's a heck of a quarterback now, and yet I still think he can get better. And that's fun to be around.”

Quarterback Alex Hornibrook is the Wisconsin starter for the third straight season.

The Badgers could play this season without top-notch receiver Quintez Cephus and Danny Davis has been suspended the first two games. There are two other experienced receivers, though, in A.J. Taylor and Kendric Pryor.

Taylor, the Big Ten’s freshman of the year last season who finished sixth in Heisman Trophy voting, gained 1,977 yards last season and scored 13 touchdowns. He and Hornibrook have the luxury of working behind a veteran offensive line.

“I'm glad of who we have on our roster,” Chryst said. “I think of since I've been here — I know I left for three years, but (since) I've been at Wisconsin, we've had a lot of good players. I think we're starting to get some depth at the receiver spot. Love the fact that Jonathan Taylor is our running back. And I think we've got good depth there. But I've also been fortunate to be a part of some really good teams and specifically at running back, depth at that position.

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“We get an opportunity and the running backs (get) an opportunity to prove that this is the -- whether they're one of the better groups that's ever been, a lot of that stuff that people like to talk about -- all I know is that group cares about their team, whether it's receivers, running backs, they want to do all they can to help this team be the best we can be.

“That you appreciate as a coach.”

The key for every productive offense, however, is a solid offensive line. Wisconsin seems to always reload that position group with talent.

“We feel fortunate for all the work that guys put into it and we've got offensive linemen, we've got a lot of guys that played really good football,” Chryst said.

Defensive line is less proven heading into this season.

“We've got a younger group,” Chryst said. “But it doesn't just happen. And I know there's been a long history of really good linemen. But they have to work and they have to put themselves in position. (The offensive and defensive line coaches) spent a lot of time with them and love the fact that we have guys with experience. And if you're going to be a good team, you have to be good in your offensive and defensive lines. So it's a good starting point. And we've just got to continue to work to get better.”

The Badgers have a some big road games – at Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State, before finishing at Purdue. Some national pundits have the Badgers contending for the national tile.

“Our expectations and our goals inside the room have always been really high,” Chryst said. “And once you set those, then I think the only way to reach, obtain those goals, is to take advantage of each day and focus on that. And you earn the right to be -- we're talking about earning more opportunities, earning games, whether that's trying to win the Big Ten West so you can earn the right to play in the Big Ten Championship Game, earn the right to play in a bowl game, all those things are earned.”