Football

Column: Why Hornibrook deserves fan sympathy, not scorn

Quarterback Alex Hornibrook was inconsistent in his three years as a starter, but he reached heights few Wisconsin signal callers have achieved.

Image By: Jessi Schoville

 “The most popular man on  campus is the backup quarterback.” 

That phrase rang true in 2016 as Alex Hornibrook’s name was on the lips of fans across Wisconsin. Despite a historic 16-14 upset against No. 5 LSU, starter Bart Houston had the worst debut passer rating for a Badger quarterback since 1977 against the Tigers.

Two weeks later, Hornibrook was a savior as he came in and helped save the Badgers from an embarrassing defeat to Georgia State and became the starter since that day. 

But in a 2018 season to forget, with preseason expectations of being in the hunt for a College Football Playoff spot, the Badgers finished 8-5 and in search for a scapegoat, Wisconsin fans chose Hornibrook. 

Once again, the backup, Jack Coan proved to be popular while Hornibrook received intense criticism from students and fans. After Hornibrook announced he was leaving the program and transferring to Florida State as a graduate transfer, fans celebrated his departure like he was the Wicked Witch of the West.

There is no denying that Hornibrook was wildly inconsistent and frustrating at times, but he should be celebrated for what he is: one of the best quarterbacks in Wisconsin history.

Yes, I’m defending Alex Hornibrook, and I am proud.

Hornibrook finished his Wisconsin career with a 26-6 record, 5,438 passing yards and 47 touchdowns, which is the third-most in Wisconsin history. He went undefeated in the regular season in 2017 and won two New Year’s Six Bowl games.

Not bad for a “failure.”

His 25 passing touchdowns during the 2017 season were second in program history, only behind Russell Wilson’s brilliant 2011 season. 

In fact, if you peruse through UW’s passing record book, you’ll see Hornibrook’s name on nearly every list, including the record for highest passing completion against BYU in 2017. 

Clearly, this guy sucks.

Hornibrook’s play regressed from last season, but it wasn’t only Hornibrook who struggled. Wisconsin’s defense was not its typical stout self, putting more pressure on the Badgers’ offense.

The offensive playcalling also didn’t help. Obviously, with a Doak Walker-winning running back like Jonathan Taylor, it makes sense to run the ball. But with Taylor, the whole world knows that you want to run the ball every single down until you’re forced to pass.

Expectations also played a part in the disappointment. This was set up as Wisconsin’s year to break in with the big boys, and most people thought Hornibrook’s development could make the Badgers a threat.

Wisconsin is known as “Running Back U” and not “Quarterback U” for a reason. The only game-changing quarterback in Wisconsin’s history was Russell Wilson, and he played one season in Madison. 

So are fans trying to argue that Hornibrook isn’t on the same level, or worse, than such previous offensive luminaries as Scott Tolzien, Jim Sorgi, John Stocco and the immortal Joel Stave? 

I’m not buying that. 

I’m not trying to suggest that Jack Coan or Graham Mertz can’t be better than Alex Hornibrook. In fact, I hope they grow into great quarterbacks and lead Wisconsin to more and more success. 

As fans, let’s not tell a winning quarterback like Alex Hornibrook “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” because his career is deserving of more praise than he currently has.

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