Unbeaten No. 5 Wisconsin subdues No. 24 Michigan
MADISON, Wis. — Forget that Alex Hornibrook has thrown interceptions in eight straight games.
The miscues aren’t ideal, but Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst’s confidence hasn’t wavered in the 6-foot-4, 215-pound quarterback.
Hornibrook completed 9 of 19 passes for 143 yards, with one touchdown and one interception in No. 5 Wisconsin’s 24-10 win over No. 24 Michigan on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
Hornibrook persevered despite throwing his 13th interception of the season in the second half against the Wolverines (8-3, 5-3 Big Ten).
“I think Alex does a really good job of being in the moment,” Chryst said. “We certainly knew we were going to have to make plays down the field.
“Even some of the passes that were incomplete, I thought he did a really good job of if it wasn’t there, getting it out of his hands. I think he did a lot of good things.”
The Badgers (11-0, 8-0) finish the regular season at Minnesota next Saturday and play in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 2 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The victory over Michigan secured the outright West Division title for Wisconsin.
Badgers freshman running back Jonathan Taylor had 19 carries for 132 yards and recorded his eighth 100-plus-yard effort of the season. The true freshman’s rushing total for the season is at 1,657 yards.
The Badgers held Michigan (8-3, 5-3) to 234 total yards, including 58 rushing yards, a season low for the Wolverines.
Wisconsin’s special teams lent a hand in the first quarter.
Wisconsin junior punt returner Nick Nelson casually watched the ball drop on the field, scooped it up and ran 50 yards for his first career touchdown. He broke three tackles on that score that gave Wisconsin a 7-0 lead with 1:15 left in the first quarter.
Michigan tied the game with 2:24 left in the second quarter. The critical play on the drive was a 48-yard pass from Brandon Peters to fellow freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones to the 36-yard line. That helped set up a 1-yard touchdown run by freshman fullback Ben Mason to tie the game at 7.
Hornibrook threw an interception in the third quarter, as sophomore linebacker Devin Bush picked him off on the Badgers’ 29-yard line at the 8:33 mark.
That mistake helped give Michigan its first lead at 10-7, as sophomore Quinn Nordin drilled a 39-yard field goal.
Hornibrook, who has accumulated 18 passing touchdowns and 2,006 yards this season, said his ability to shrug off mistakes and move on have been critical components of his game.
“I just figure out what went wrong, figure out how to fix it and not even think about it anymore,” Hornibrook said. “I think you guys (the media) get more stressed out about (interceptions) than I do.”
Hornibrook and sophomore wideout A.J. Taylor connected on a couple of big plays that put Wisconsin in control. The two connected on a 51-yard pass that put the Badgers on Michigan’s 19-yard line. Three plays later, Taylor caught a 24-yard TD pass with 3:31 left in the third quarter to put the Badgers ahead 14-10.
Hornibrook said his performance has been boosted by Taylor and freshman wide receiver Danny Davis, who combined for 117 receiving yards against Michigan. Taylor had three catches for 79 yards and a touchdown, all in the second half.
“They’re tough, competitive guys; they love playing the game,” Hornibrook said. “I know they’re going to do everything they can to go get the ball for me.”
A scary situation occurred late in the third quarter for Michigan when Peters was tackled hard to the turf by Badgers junior linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel. Peters was taken to the locker room on a cart for further examination and was replaced by redshirt senior John O’Korn.
Peters completed 9 of 18 passes for 157 yards. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Peters was shaken up on the play and was undergoing tests for a head injury.
Harbaugh said he didn’t know if the absence of Peters made an impact, but felt the Wolverines should have done a better job with pass protection.
“We can’t get him hit as much,” Harbaugh said. “We need to get better at it. (Wisconsin) had a three-man pick stunt that was effectively holding our center. We weren’t able to slide off of that and it got us beat a few times. He was good, though.”
Harbaugh said Hornibrook and Jonathan Taylor had strong efforts down the stretch.
“Taylor got out there a bit in the fourth quarter,” he said. “Then, we weren’t able to get any big chunks in the running game.
“There were the two big throws and they got a few runs on us, too. That ended up being the difference in the game. We weren’t quite able to crack those runs in running game offensively or get enough plays to win it.”
NOTES: Wisconsin junior Nick Nelson’s 50-yard punt return for a touchdown is the school’s second-longest since Kenzel Doe’s 82-yard score in 2012. ... Badgers freshman C Tyler Biadasz started against Michigan. Biadasz suffered a left leg injury in the first half against Iowa last week. ... Michigan junior RB Karan Higdon carried seven times for 20 yards. Higdon’s status was uncertain after suffering an ankle sprain in last week’s game.