Redshirt freshman QB Hornibrook picks apart MSU

Tony Paul
The Detroit News


Alex Hornibrook escapes a tackle against MSU on Saturday.

East Lansing — In his first college start, the lefty was just right.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook was on target practically all Saturday afternoon, especially on third downs, as Wisconsin pummeled Michigan State, 30-6, at Spartan Stadium.

Sure, the Spartans had their struggles on defense, especially in the secondary.

But credit certainly is due to Hornibrook, too.

"The quarterback was hot today," senior safety Demetrious Cox said. "I felt like he put some balls in some places that were hard for us to get to."

Hornibrook was 16-for-26 for 195 yards and a touchdown, and at one point in the first half had a quarterback rating over 170.

He started over fifth-year senior Bart Houston, who got benched last week in Wisconsin's comeback win over Georgia State.

"Alex is a guy that normally is a consistent person. I think he's a guy that loves being a part of this team and is a tremendous worker, and he's got a skill set that's pretty good," Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said following the 11th-ranked Badgers win over the No. 8 Spartans.

"The thing I love about him is he's consistent, and he works, and he'll continue to."

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A 6-foot-4, 219-pounder, Hornibrook doesn't have elite arm strength, necessarily. But he's accurate — even on his incompletions, they tended to be in a spot where defenders couldn't get to them. Michigan State had few shots at interceptions and picked off just one, an inconsequential one at the end of the first half as Wisconsin aired it out in attempt to get some more points heading to the locker room.

He was especially impressive on third down, as Wisconsin was 7-for-16. Wisconsin also was 2-for-2 on fourth-down conversions, both on a 16-play, first-quarter drive that resulted in a touchdown and an early 7-3 Badgers lead.

"I think you've gotta congratulate Hornibrook," MSU coach Mark Dantonio said. "I thought he played very, very well for a guy that's his first time out there playing as a starter, big game, he put the ball on the money and made some great throws. And they made some great catches."

That said, Dantonio acknowledged MSU didn't get nearly the pressure on Hornibrook that it would've hoped for. He was sacked twice.

Part of that was by design, as Wisconsin essentially took sophomore nose tackle Malik McDowell out of the equation much of the game. When possible, the Badgers put an extra body on him, and it worked.

"He is a heck of a football player, and we knew that. And yet, you always are a little bit nervous to over-concentrate on one guy, because we feel they have a lot of guys who can hurt you," Chryst said. "We have a lot of respect for their defense.

"Where there were opportunities to help, we were able to help."

Hornibrook — pronounced Horn-ee-brook — spread his passes around to six different receivers, with junior Jazz Peavy leading the way with four catches for 96 yards.

And the redshirt freshman, debuting as a starter, on the road, in the Big Ten opener, appeared calm and poised as could be maneuvering his way through the Spartans' defense.

"They game-planned against us," MSU senior cornerback Darian Hicks said. "Just found plays that worked for them and they kept going back to them.

"Give credit to them. They're a good team. It's a game. Things happened."