An argument can be made that the Wisconsin Badgers exist this season solely to hammer home the notion that college football can be an unpredictable game. After all, who could’ve imagined that Alex Hornibrook, a quarterback making his first-ever start against an elite defense in Michigan State, would outplay a fifth-year senior and win where the home team was touting a 21-1 home record over the past three years?
Wisconsin, though, bested its second top-8 opponent in the first month of the season, and now sets its sights on a third, Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines. A win would mark its third consecutive victory over Michigan, something the Badgers haven’t accomplished since Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the Oval Office.
While Wisconsin’s defense has rightfully been credited with much of the team’s success thus far, Pro Football Focus ranked Michigan as the nation’s top defense last week, days before the Wolverines held Penn State’s Saquon Barkley to a career-low 59 rushing yards on a pedestrian 3.9 yards per carry.
In last week’s win, Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown sent everything but the kitchen sink at the Nittany Lions. Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley faced pressure on 45.7 percent of his drop-backs, took six sacks and threw an interception in the loss.
Wisconsin’s victory over the Spartans was impressive and unanticipated, but Hornibrook hasn’t seen the caliber of athletes that Michigan will bring into formation. These include players like do-it-all stud Jabrill Peppers, whom Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst dubbed “the best player in college football right now.”
If Michigan controls the line of scrimmage and dials up pressure, Hornibrook won’t be effective against this secondary, arguably the best in the country.