IOWA CITY, IOWA — Trailing 17-14 with 5:40 left in the game, a leg up in the Big Ten West and the fate of their season on the line, a Wisconsin offense that struggled to find a rhythm all night needed to go 88 yards to win the game.
Alex Hornibrook did just that.
Hornibrook and the Badgers offense (1-0 Big Ten, 3-1 overall) rattled off a 10-play, 88-yard touchdown drive to take a 21-17 lead with 57 seconds left in the game before tacking on another score in the final minute to defeat the Hawkeyes (0-1 Big Ten, 3-1 overall) 28-17. The much-maligned quarterback completed all five of his attempts for 65 yards on the drive.
Wide receiver Kendric Pryor got the drive started with a 28-yard reception on a pass that seemed to hang in the air forever. Two runs of four and one from running back Jonathan Taylor set up a third and five that running back Garrett Groshek subsequently converted with a 5-yard reception. A 12-yard catch and run from Jake Ferguson brought the Badgers into the red zone, and while the Hawkeyes were still reeling, Hornibrook found A.J. Taylor in the end zone for the game-winning score.
“We have trust in each other, so that last drive is something we practice all the time,” Hornibrook said. “Everybody in the huddle knew we could do it. Everybody knew what we had to do. We just locked in and got the drive going.”
Taylor’s decisive touchdown was keyed by a bit of improvisation that the junior wideout credited to his chemistry with Hornibrook.
“What I was supposed to do was to go outside of the [linebacker],” A.J. Taylor said. “But I relied on my instincts and decided to cut inside to straighten it up, and when I did, Alex read me very well. He threw it in there, and we made it work.”
The game-winning drive was set up by a Badgers defense that locked in the fourth quarter, forcing two punts and ending the game with a T.J. Edwards interception. Sophomore defensive lineman Isaiahh Loudermilk’s third down pass breakup gave UW the ball back with 10:29 left, but Wisconsin’s offense was unable to capitalize and take the lead.
The Badgers got another stop after Loudermilk pressured Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley on third and five, setting up Hornibrook and the offense to march the length of the field.
“I think it took us a little bit of time to get into a rhythm,” T.J. Edwards said. "Their offensive line did a really good job of doing what they wanted to do, and we weren’t tackling very well. They were moving the ball and executing against us, and once we were able to get into that rhythm, we were able to stop them."
The first half was played in typical Wisconsin-Iowa fashion: physical, back-and-forth football. UW’s offense punted on five of their opening six drives, their lone score coming off an 11-play, 95-yard drive. Alex Ingold’s 33-yard reception on third and two got the Badgers to the 6-yard line, where Hornibrook found redshirt freshman tight end Jake Ferguson for a touchdown, the first of his career.
“You have to stop both the run and the pass,” Ferguson said. “They were really heavy on that run because we had those big guys in there. It just happened that I was free and nobody was on me, and all Alex had to do was put it up and I was there.”
UW used a jumbo offensive line package throughout the night, utilizing offensive linemen Jason Erdmann and Logan Bruss as makeshift tight ends, giving the Badgers seven blockers along the line.
“I thought it gave us some plays,” head coach Paul Chryst said. “I thought they did a good job adjusting with it. You always wonder if you’re using it one too many times. It gave us a chance to get some of the guys we thought could help us win, giving them a role.”
“Monday morning after our meeting we introduced the play calls,” Bruss said. “It was something new, different, a new challenge. I enjoyed it.”
Wisconsin’s special teams created two turnovers on punts. D’Cota Dixon forced and recovered a fumble near the end of the second quarter, but the Badgers were unable to capitalize on offense. Midway through the third quarter, as Anthony Lotti’s punt trickled toward the end zone, Iowa’s Shaun Beyer inadvertently touched the ball as he was blocking, and freshman Travian Blaylock was right there to recover for the Badgers. Two plays later, Alex Hornibrook found Danny Davis in the end zone on a back shoulder route to give UW a 14-10 lead.
The Hawkeyes responded in decisive fashion, going 75 yards in eight plays in three and a half minutes. Runs of nine and ten along with a questionable Ryan Connelly late hit flag brought Iowa into the red zone, where Nate Stanley found Noah Fant for a 1-yard touchdown, giving Iowa a 17-14 lead.
Coming off a disappointing loss last week to BYU, the Badgers needed to respond this week if they were to keep their Big Ten West and playoff dreams alive. In the fourth quarter, they did.
“I don’t believe we have come together [this season] like we did tonight,” A.J. Taylor said. “The way we rallied tonight, that was special. You could feel it just within us. I didn’t think we were going to lose that game at all. It’s hard to explain.”