COLLEGE FOOTBALL LOOK AHEAD

Badgers remain in Top 10 despite Ohio State loss

The Sports Xchange

October 17, 2016 at 6:40 pm.

Oct 15, 2016; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook (12) throws a pass during the first quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Camp Randall Stadium. Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 15, 2016; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook (12) throws a pass during the first quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Camp Randall Stadium. Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

College football forecasters predicted doom for Wisconsin this season after the Badgers lost some key players from 2015, but the main reason centered on a brutal three-game stretch that included games at Michigan State and Michigan and a home contest against Ohio State.

Wisconsin also opened the season against preseason Top 5 LSU, and after playing the elite in the brutal three-game stretch, the Badgers still have tough road games at Iowa on Saturday and at home against Nebraska on Oct. 29.

Yes, the Badgers have one of the toughest schedules in the country. But after defeating then-No. 5 LSU, No. 8 Michigan State and battling No. 4 Michigan to a 14-7 loss, Wisconsin closed out its brutal stretch with a 30-23 overtime loss to No. 2 Ohio State.
Despite starting a freshman quarterback in Alex Hornibrook for the last few games, the Badgers (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten West) nearly knocked off three Top 5 teams in the first six weeks of the season.

The Badgers’ strong showing in the first six games — even with two conference losses — has caught the eye of voters. Wisconsin enters the Iowa game ranked No. 10 in the coaches poll.

“We didn’t come into this one hoping to keep it close, hoping to just be out there,” Badgers coach Paul Chryst said. “I asked the kids on Friday night to put it all out there, and they did.”

Behind one of the best defenses in the country, the Badgers limited the high-scoring Buckeyes (6-0, 3-0) to 13 points in the first three quarters. Wisconsin led 16-6 at halftime, but Ohio State stormed back with 17 second-half points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, to force overtime. Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett hit Noah Brown for a seven-yard touchdown pass in overtime for the game winner.

One of the positives from Saturday’s close loss was the play of running back Corey Clement. After struggling most of the season, partly due to an injury, Clement shined in the overtime loss. He equaled his career high with 164 yards to help the Badgers finish with 236 yards — the most by an Ohio State opponent this season.

“I thought the thing that gave us a chance tonight was running the football,” Chryst said.

Getting Clement going is a good sign heading into Iowa Saturday. It’s the first game against an unranked Power Five opponent this season for the Badgers. They then host No. 8 Nebraska the following week.

The Hawkeyes won’t be a pushover, not on their home field and with a boom or bust approach. The Hawkeyes are 2-1 in the West, behind 3-0 Nebraska. For the Badgers, they control their destiny despite two games back of Nebraska in the conference standings. They have to win at Iowa and beat Nebraska and finish out their final four games against West opponents.

“We’ve got to win out the rest of the season to get to the Big Ten championship,” Clement said. “A lot’s at state, but we’re going to soak in this loss and know what it feels like.”

NOTES, QUOTES
PLAYERS TO WATCH

–QB Alex Hornibrook is showing poise beyond his young years. Hornibrook has handled the pressure of being named a starter in his redshirt freshman year, and showed remarkable ability to handle the spotlight competing against Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State. He completed 16-of-28 passes for 214 yards with one touchdown and one interception against Ohio State. Another tough test looms at Iowa, but Hornibrook has proven to be able to lead the offense and limit turnovers.

–RB Corey Clement finally had a breakout game with 164 yards on 25 carries against Ohio State. He averaged 6.6 yards per carry and caught one pass for 18 yards.

–LB Jack Cichy paced the Badgers with a team-high 15 tackles against No. 2 Ohio State. He had 3.5 tackles for a loss, including a sack and forced a fumble. He’s proven to be the leader on UW’s defense with his play and hard-nosed personality.

–LB T.J. Watt finished with five tackles in the loss to Ohio State. Look for Watt to be a key figure in Wisconsin’s quest to remain in contention for the Big Ten West title in the final six games.