I have a confession to make. Coming into Saturday’s tilt with BYU, I still wasn’t sold on Alex Hornibrook. I’ve been a consistent backer of other quarterbacks on the UW roster, as my avowed passion for Jack Coan will attest. My well-worn “Bart Heisman” shirt from last year’s campaign can also serve as proof of that.
Well, it’s high time for me to eat my words. Hornibrook’s near-perfect day in Provo yesterday against a putatively strong BYU defense showed the world why Paul Chryst has maintained such steadfast loyalty towards his second-year quarterback. A drop by true freshman Danny Davis deprived the Pennsylvanian signal-caller of a perfect 19-for-19 day, but Hornibrook can hardly complain. He was firing on all cylinders, connecting with receiver after receiver. His decision-making was excellent, his accuracy and pocket-presence was lightyears ahead of where he was last year.
So maybe it’s time to ask the age-old question: Is Alex Hornibrook an elite quarterback?
Now, I don’t fail to see the irony of asking such a question as I proudly don my black Joe Flacco jersey. As a Marylander, the “Is Joe Flacco elite?” question has been asked of me, often sardonically, a myriad of times in the past half-decade. So it’s only natural that I should be the first to get this debate started. Well, almost the first: A quick search on Twitter for “Alex Hornibrook elite” provides one result, a tweet that garnered a grand total of one like.
I’m aware that I have a proclivity to prematurely overreact to sports events. After the Badgers basketball team upset Villanova in the NCAA Tournament, I began searching for plane tickets to Phoenix and considered reaching out to my aunt and uncle in the area to see about lodging. I’m also always convincing myself that every year is the Washington Capitals’ year to win the Stanley Cup. So I’m no stranger to self-delusion. In fact, Hornibrook’s impressive performance against MSU last year led me to set unnecessarily high expectations for the youngster — turned out the Spartans weren’t nearly as good as we thought they were.
My sunny optimism when it comes to Hornibrook this year, however, is more grounded in reality, or so I think. Sure, it wasn’t a Big Ten game, but it was against a legitimate opponent in a difficult environment. His third-down efficiency, and particularly the use of the various weapons at his disposal, showed a maturity that he seemed to lack last year. Furthermore, the weapons at his disposal looked downright scary.
The Cougars generally put the clamps on Troy Fumagalli, and Jazz Peavy had another performance that fell short of the expectations many had set for him this season. Yet true sophomores A.J. Taylor and Quintez Cephus stepped up in their stead. The aforementioned Davis, despite his drop, has flashed big-play potential as well. The offensive line, injury to Jon Dietzen notwithstanding, looked downright dominant for much of the game, and having a bye week to convalesce will certainly help it improve.
With the players around him continuing to show their talent, Hornibrook will have plenty of opportunities to continue to improve. A weak schedule will certainly help as well. While the season slate has never seemed overly daunting, the Badgers’ rivals’ ineptitude to this point has been even more encouraging. Northwestern absolutely imploded against Duke; Nebraska lost to MAC also-ran Northern Illinois at home; Iowa struggled to put away North Texas; Purdue and Maryland’s quick starts don’t seem sustainable; Michigan can’t seem to find their offense; and Minnesota seems to be the same old Minnesota. All in all, with each passing week, UW’s schedule looks increasingly manageable. Add in a formidable supporting cast and a head coach reputed for his ability to develop young quarterbacks, and the sky’s the limit for Alex Hornibrook. In fact, I expect him to finish second in the Heisman vote for the next three seasons (coming in just behind Jonathan Taylor, of course). That’s not an overreaction, right?