While Wisconsin is a familiar opponent for Northwestern, you may have not watched the Badgers much this season so far. The Badgers have not played many big-name opponents, with BYU being the best team they’ve played in non-conference. However, Wisconsin has been nearly flawless in those three games.
Alex Hornibrook has been a breakout star in 2017
When Wisconsin promoted redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook from the second-string early last year, the results were decidedly mixed. Hornibrook quickly gained a reputation as a bit of a “game manager.” He split snaps with Bart Houston at times and also got injured at the end of the season against Minnesota. No one really knew what to expect from Hornibrook coming into 2017.
Well, we know more now. The sophomore was effectively perfect against BYU, going 18-of-19 with 256 yards and 4 touchdowns. He’s completing 70 percent of his passes and has a 8-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio. Suddenly, through three games, Wisconsin has a top-tier Big Ten quarterback to go along with its excellent defense and rushing attack.
Wisconsin may have found a new star running back
After Corey Clement left for the NFL, Wisconsin was looking for a new heir to its illustrious line of running backs. True freshman Jonathan Taylor, a four-star recruit from Salem, New Jersey, has been electrifying to start his Wisconsin career. In his second career game against Florida Atlantic, Taylor ran for 223 yards and 3 touchdowns. Against BYU, he ran for 128 yards on 18 carries. He has 5 touchdowns in three games and is averaging 8.26 yards per carry. Northwestern will have its hands full with Taylor.
The defense has not missed a beat despite losing talent
Wisconsin was dealt a huge blow before the season when senior inside linebacker Jack Cichy tore his ACL in preseason. The Badgers also lost DE Chikwe Obasih in Week 1. With T.J. Watt now playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Vince Biegel also gone, Wisconsin is not at full strength on defense.
Of course, because it’s Wisconsin, injuries and graduation have not mattered at all thus far. The Badgers’ defense has hummed along, going on the road and limiting BYU to just six points. Relatively unknown redshirt sophomore Chris Orr leads the team in tackles and is now a first-string inside linebacker (gosh, Wisconsin is such a good program, I don’t understand it). Florida Atlantic and BYU averaged just 3 yards per carry against the Badgers. We haven’t seen the defense against Big Ten competition yet (and BYU might be bad), but new defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard hasn’t needed to face any criticism so far.