There is quite a bit to unpack from Wisconsin’s thrilling overtime victory against No. 7 Nebraska this past Saturday.
For starters, a lot of credit has to be given to Mike Riley and the Cornhuskers for how well they battled back in that game. Since Nebraska joined the Big Ten back in 2011, the Huskers and the Badgers have had several high-profile meetings. More times than not, those meetings have resulted in Nebraska being embarrassed by Wisconsin on national television. But that was not the case Saturday night.
When the Badgers opened up the second half with a lengthy scoring drive to grab a 17-7 lead, it was possible that they could have broken the game open and cruised to a win by a comfortable margin. Under former Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini, big games like this were where his teams consistently seemed to fall flat on their face. The Huskers may have not moved to 8-0, but they made an admirable comeback attempt to force overtime and could’ve easily won that game. If the refs had called a blatant pass interference by T.J. Watt on the penultimate play of the game, that very well could have happened. And despite the loss, the Cornhuskers could still earn a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game by winning out, though they will need to beat Ohio State on the road next Saturday for that to happen.
Riley has the program pointed in the right direction and it’s safe to say that this budding rivalry between Wisconsin and Nebraska will have major Big Ten West implications every time the teams meet for the foreseeable future.
As for Wisconsin, its hopes of making it back to Indianapolis stay alive thanks to the dramatic victory. However, Paul Chryst has managed to concoct a quarterback controversy practically out of thin air.
For whatever reason, Chryst and his coaching staff have decided that it is a good idea to randomly pepper Bart Houston into games. The two-quarterback system didn’t have any real ill effects against Iowa, but it almost cost the Badgers dearly Saturday night.
After Hornibrook threw an egregious interception in the second half, Chryst sent Houston out on the next drive, who promptly did the same thing. This left Chryst in a bit of a dilemma of who to go with for the rest of the game, and he ended up just sticking with Houston the rest of the way. The Badgers have now gone 2-0 since they’ve implemented this two-quarterback system, but they’re winning in spite of it, not because of it.
When Houston struggled early in the season, Chryst did the right thing and made Hornibrook the starter. That was a smart decision that he deserved credit for because there are plenty of coaches who would’ve stuck with Houston until Wisconsin lost a game or two before making a move. Chryst erred on the side of being proactive rather than reactive.
However, he needs to embrace that decision and let Hornibrook get these valuable reps. Hornibrook is going to make mistakes, throw bad interceptions and go through all the other growing pains that nearly all young quarterbacks endure. It’s important to remember that he’s still only made a grand total of five collegiate starts.
But Hornibrook is, in all likelihood, the quarterback of the future for this program. He needs these in-game reps to work through the growing pains and help him develop. It has to be hard to get in a rhythm under center when you’re being pulled out of the game at random points. It’s inexplicable that Chryst would go with this two-quarterback system seemingly out of nowhere. Unfortunately, it’s doubtful that he’ll give up on it any time soon.
Next up for the Badgers is a road trip to take on Northwestern at Ryan Field, a place where they haven’t won since Ron Dayne was their running back. Wisconsin playing in the Mystical Realm of Evanston while employing an ill-conceived two-quarterback system—what could possibly go wrong?