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Badgers football: Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook ‘calm and collected’ in first start

September 25, 2016 GMT

EAST LANSING, Mich. – The hours leading up to Alex Hornibrook’s first career start for the University of Wisconsin football team – a road game vs. a highly ranked opponent, no less – were rather uneventful.

The redshirt freshman quarterback spent Friday night in the hotel room with teammate Alec Ingold -- “Watched the new Bourne movie – it was pretty good,” Hornibrook said – and had no trouble falling (or staying) asleep.

Hornibrook said he wasn’t nervous leading up to the Big Ten Conference opener but, just in case, he went with something mellow for his pregame music selection: George Strait’s “50 Number Ones,” a greatest hits compilation by the country singer that begins with a track titled “I hate everything.”

There wasn’t much to hate about what came next for Hornibrook, who delivered an impressive performance in his starting debut to help the No. 11 Badgers roll to a 30-6 victory over No. 8 Michigan State Saturday afternoon in a Big Ten Conference opener at Spartan Stadium.

“He’s a stud,” Ingold said after Hornibrook went 16 of 26 for 195 yards with a touchdown and an interception. “He’s just cool, calm and collected, looking guys in the eyes. It’s big-time, showing guys that he isn’t fazed. There’s a fumble early on and he’s not fazed by that at all. It’s pretty special to see him step back and just lead our offense.”

Afterward, Hornibrook shrugged off the outing as nothing special. The fact he’d just played a major role in helping the Badgers (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) record a road victory over a program that had won 40 of its previous 45 games hadn’t even dawned on him yet.

“I haven’t even thought of it,” Hornibrook said. “I’ll probably think of it later today. It just seemed like another football game.”

Earlier in the week, Hornibrook had accidentally spilled the beans to reporters that he’d be the starting quarterback vs. Michigan State instead of senior Bart Houston. “I had no idea going into the interviews that it was private,” Hornibrook said. “I said it, everyone looked at each other, and I realized I messed up.”

But Hornibrook didn’t get rattled and, after consulting with members of UW’s athletic communications staff, he returned to finish the interview.

His ability to bounce back from a mistake was on display again Saturday following the aforementioned fumble. On UW’s sixth offensive snap of the game, Hornibrook was stripped by Michigan State defensive lineman Raequan Williams.

“I held on to the ball too long,” Hornibrook said of the turnover, which the Spartans (2-1, 0-1) converted into a field goal. “A little mistake that ended up in a big consequence.”

But the error didn’t unnerve Hornibrook, who went to the sidelines and tried to learn from it. He consulted with quality control assistant Jon Budmayer, a former UW quarterback, and asked about the coverage and where he should have thrown the ball.

On the following series, Hornibrook helped engineer a 16-play, 65-yard drive that took 7 minutes, 38 seconds off the clock and ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Eric Steffes.

“He is consistent, and today he was what he’s been since he’s come here,” UW coach Paul Chryst said. “There will be room for growth certainly, but I appreciate what he did. It was good to see.”

Hornibrook was particularly effective in two key areas.

On third down, he completed 9 of 12 passes for 136 yards, bringing his season totals in that category to 18 of 22 for 279 yards.

Hornibrook was 6 of 6 for 100 yards on third-and-10 or longer, helping the Badgers convert from 10, 11 (twice) and 12 yards.

“I feel like Alex really stepped up,” said junior wide receiver Jazz Peavy, who finished with four receptions for 96 yards, including explosive plays of 25, 23 and 31 yards to help UW convert in third-and-long situations. “He knew what he needed to do, and he did his job very well.”

Hornibrook also helped UW score touchdowns during all three of its visits to the red zone. The Badgers are now 7 of 7 in the red zone this season – all touchdowns – with Hornibrook under center.

“That was just something our coaches have been emphasizing all week, (converting) our third downs, red zone, just making sure we keep moving the chains,” Peavy said.

Hornibrook had plenty of help and was quick to distribute credit to his teammates. He also knew he’d find plenty on film to improve before the Badgers continue a challenging stretch with a game at No. 4 Michigan next week.

“I feel like I definitely could have done a lot of things better,” Hornibrook said. “I was happy with the score, for sure. A win’s a win, and it’s awesome. But personally, I feel like I could do a lot better.”