Alex Hornibrook

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No. 5 Wisconsin blanks Minnesota, 31-0, to complete 12-0 regular season

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No. 5 Wisconsin (12-0, 9-0 Big Ten) put the finishing touches on an undefeated regular season in blowout fashion, defeating Minnesota (5-7, 2-7 Big Ten) on the road by a score of 31-0. Say what you might about the level of competition Minnesota has faced this season, but the Badgers have done everything asked of them to be in the College Football Playoff discussion, and they may be one win shy of reaching the playoff for the first time in school history.

Wisconsin had a straightforward approach to beating Minnesota fueled by steady defense and a good running game. Jonathan Taylor rushed 20 times for 149 yards and a score in the big win to continue a dominant freshman season. Alex Hornibrook passed for 151 yards and three touchdowns for an efficient afternoon when needed.

All that stands in the way for the Badgers now is Ohio State and the selection committee. A win against the Buckeyes to string together a 13-0 record with a Big Ten championship capped by a win against a top 10 team feels like it should be enough on its own to be rewarded with inclusion in the College Football Playoff. And with the top two teams in the nation losing this weekend, it still remains a guessing game how the selection committee will evaluate the situation. Nothing should be considered a given, but if Wisconsin is the last undefeated power conference team standing at the end of the season, then that should be enough if the Badgers can pull it off.

Wisconsin will play Ohio State next week in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. Minnesota’s season is now done with a 5-7 record, bringing the first season under P.J. Fleck to a close. There were some positives at times, but the Gophers have plenty of rowing to do to take steps forward in the Big Ten West pecking order and to give Wisconsin a decent run.

Wisconsin defense setting tone against Minnesota

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Wisconsin has not lost to Minnesota since 2003, and after one half of play, it appears that streak will continue. Wisconsin’s defense has shut the door on the Gophers after one half of play, while the Badgers have put together a 17-0 lead in the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe. The Badgers had more points than Minnesota had offensive yards at halftime after going up 17-0, but the Gophers picked up some yards before the end of the half.

Wisconsin opened the scoring in the first quarter when Alex Hornibrook completed a short touchdown pass to tight end Troy Fumagalli to cap a 12-play drive. After the defense pitched a three-and-out to force a punt, Wisconsin tacked on three more with a 32-yard field goal off the leg of Rafael Gaglianone.

Wisconsin pushed the lead to 17-0 in the final minute of the half when Hornibrook completed a pass to Kyle Penniston from five yards out following a 27-yard run by Garrett Groshek.

No. 5 Wisconsin muscles their way to 11-0 against No. 24 Michigan

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No. 5 Wisconsin (11-0, 8-0) moved one step closer to an undefeated regular season thanks to a strong second-half showing against No. 24 Michigan (8-3, 5-3 Big Ten). The Badgers struggled to get much of anything going on offense in the first half, but the plays seemed to come together in the second half en route to a 24-10 victory in Madison on Saturday afternoon. The Badgers scored 21-unanswered points to overcome a 10-7 deficit in the third quarter.

Michigan was on the wrong end of a controversial instant replay in the first half, but even if the correct call had been made in the review it would not have been enough to score the upset. The Badgers wore down Michigan in the second half and found some passing plays to use to their advantage off the arm of Alex Hornibrook. Hornibrook completed just nine passes out of 19 attempts with one going for a touchdown and another deep ball providing a spark along the way. The recipe for a win, of course, remained running the ball. Freshman sensation Jonathan Taylor ripped off 132 yards on 19 carries to power Wisconsin’s offense.

Michigan starting quarterback Brandon Peters was carted off in the third quarter with an apparent head injury. He did not return, and John O’Korn was tasked with taking over the offense for the remainder of the game. Had Peters not been injured, it may not have mattered. Wisconsin’s defense was still making plays when they needed and not allowing Michigan to seize control for extended periods of time.

The win keeps Wisconsin knocking on the door to the College Football Playoff. If the Badgers win their next two games, they will stand an excellent chance of getting to the playoff for the first time in school history. Wisconsin will wrap up the regular season on the road next week with the annual rivalry game with Minnesota. The Gophers were getting thumped by Northwestern and will need a long-overdue win against Wisconsin in order to become bowl-eligible. Wisconsin has not lost to Minnesota since 2003. After that, it will be a date in the Big Ten Championship Game against the champion of the East Division, which will more than likely be the team Michigan plays next week.

Michigan will be home in Ann Arbor for their rivalry game against Ohio State. The Buckeyes will need the win in order to remain on the playoff radar heading into the Big Ten championship game. Jim Harbaugh has not beaten Urban Meyer yet.

No. 8 Wisconsin punches ticket to Big Ten title game with dominant defensive performance vs. No. 20 Iowa

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Sometimes you just have knuckle down and win an ugly game. No. 8 Wisconsin (10-0, 7-0 Big Ten) did just that on Saturday against No. 20 Iowa (6-4, 3-4 Big Ten) by coming through for a gritty 38-14 victory on the strength of its defense. The only points scored by Iowa came from cornerback Joshua Jackson, and Wisconsin held Iowa to just 56 yards of offense. The win for Wisconsin clinched a return trip to the Big Ten championship game.

Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook was picked off twice by Jackson, and each time the interception was returned for a touchdown. It was the only way Iowa would manage to score in this one as the offense never got anything going against a stingy Wisconsin defense. Iowa forced two additional Wisconsin turnovers but Iowa could not take advantage of the opportunities unless Jackson was the one getting his hands on the football on defense. Wisconsin’s defense even got in on the scoring with a fumble return for a touchdown by Leon Jacobs. Another Iowa turnover also led to a Wisconsin score in the fourth quarter as the Badgers continued to pad their lead. Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor continued to show why he is the Big Ten’s leading rusher with 158 yards on the ground.

A week after lighting up the Buckeyes, Iowa quarterback Nathan Stanley completed just eight of his 23 pass attempts for 41 yards.

Here’s the thing with Wisconsin. They’re a pretty darn good team. They tend to be well coached by Paul Chryst. They don’t do many things in a sexy fashion, but they haven’t had to either. The schedule is what the schedule is, and it is fair to analyze that when comparing what Wisconsin has accomplished against what other playoff contenders have accomplished so far. And it is still fair to suggest other teams have a more impressive overall body of work too, conceding that an undefeated season does not necessarily have to mean you have been more impressive thana one-loss team or even, perhaps, a two-loss team.

But Wisconsin is doing exactly what it needs to do to achieve its first goal, which is winning the Big Ten. If the Badgers get to 12-0 with a shot at the Big Ten championship, they will absolutely be worthy of playoff consideration entering the conference title game. Anyone who argues against that is just being dismissive. This Wisconsin team is good. They might even be able to score a point in the College Football Playoff should they be fortunate enough to make it that far. For now, Chryst and Wisconsin will just focus on taking care of what they can and then letting the playoff committee do their job to determine if they are worthy or not at the end of the season.

For Wisconsin, it is on to next week to work on getting to 11-0. To do that, they will have to win one more game at home. Wisconsin will host Michigan next week in the home finale for the Badgers. The Wolverines could be tricky after seemingly discovered how to play some offense the last couple of weeks.

Iowa will return home for their home finale as well. The Hawkeyes host Purdue next week.

Wisconsin Badgers lead Iowa 17-7 despite three first-half turnovers

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When you lose the football three times, you are not supposed to hold a 10-point lead at halftime. But such is the case so far this afternoon for Wisconsin, the last unbeaten team in the Big Ten. Wisconsin has used a strong defensive effort to overcome three turnovers and leads Iowa 17-7 at the half in Madison.

Iowa actually scored first in this one, with the defense striking on the first possession of the game. On 3rd and 13 from the Wisconsin 36-yard line, Alex Hornbrook had his pass picked off by Iowa’s Joshua Jackson, who returned it 43 yards for a touchdown in the first 90 seconds of the game. If that sounds a tad familiar, that’s because Iowa returned an interception for a score against Ohio State last week. But this game has been much more defensive throughout, as opposed to the scoring bursts seen last week in Kinnick Stadium.

Wisconsin came back with a field goal on their second offensive series to calm things down a bit. As expected, the game quickly became a chess match of field position with punt after punt from both teams, and a second interception from the Iowa defense mixed in. In the second quarter though, Wisconsin took the lead on an end-around play with Kendric Pryor springing down the left side of the field 25 yards for a score.

The Badgers added a late touchdown before halftime after taking the ball over at the Iowa 26-yard line after a punt from the back of the end zone. Hornibrook connected with Pryor as the receiver climbed a ladder to come down with the ball to put Wisconsin up 17-7.

Iowa’s offense has not been able to get anything going and has just one first down at the break. If they can’t get going, they will be going home with a loss while the Badgers keep hoping to make a playoff-worthy statement.