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Hornibrook saved his best rebound for Orange Bowl

Alex Hornibrook saved his best performance for last, but can it be the norm for him going forward?

If there is one thing the 2017 season has taught us about redshirt sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook, it’s that he’s pretty good at shaking off a bad performance.

Usually that means shaking of a bad interception only to come back with a solid game the rest of the way. But, in this case, it was all about rebounding from an awful Big Ten championship game, and rebound Hornibrook did.

Following a brutal performance against Ohio State in the Big Ten championship, it appeared more of the same was in store from Hornibrook as the Orange Bowl started. A first quarter that saw him go just 3 of 9 for

By the end of the game, Hornibrook was on top of the Wisconsin bowl game record book with four touchdown passes. No quarterback had ever thrown more than two touchdown passes in a bowl game in UW history before Saturday night.

That mark also tied his career high and gave him 24 touchdowns on the season.

His 24 touchdowns for the 2017 season also moved him in to some elite company, as that total ranks second in school history behind only Russell Wilson’s 33 touchdown passes during the 2011 season.

It was a finish few saw coming, yet Hornibrook did what he always does and never gave up on himself or this team. Finally, it all came together and Wisconsin came away victorious because of, instead of in spite of, it’s quarterback.

“I just think he was having a blast tonight,” UW left tackle Michael Deiter said of Hornibrook. “He’s always had that in him.

“It’s really sweet because the season he’s had, he’s had some days that weren’t he prettiest and he’s caught some heat for stuff. For him to go out like that, I think it just shows what kind of kid he is. … He just needs to run with this momentum and keep getting better.”

No series better exemplified how on point Hornibrook was than the most important series of the game. With the Badgers up just 27-24, the sophomore stepped up to engineer an 8-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Danny Davis.

Davis and Hornibrook were a deadly combination against Miami. The true freshman wide receiver caught five passes for 56 yards and three touchdowns, while the Badgers quarterback seemingly couldn’t miss when targeting his freshman wide receiver.

Wisconsin went up by the final scoreline of 34-24 with the last hookup between the two, and Hornibrook had ice water in his veins, going a perfect 6-of-6 for 74 yards on the drive.

There would be no full comeback for the Hurricanes, not as long as Hornibrook could help it on this night.

Hornibrook finished the game 23 of 34 overall for an impressive 258 yards and four touchdowns to zero interceptions. He also managed to not get sacked, in large part by finally showing an ability to feel pressure and step up in the pocket or scramble away and live to play another down.

It was the growth every Badgers fan was looking for from Hornibrook all wrapped up in one game, and what a perfect time to put it all together.

Even the fact that freshman running back Jonathan Taylor put up 133 yards and set the single season freshman rushing record in the process was obscured by Hornibrook’s play.

That’s one heck of a way to cap off a season and head in to a key offseason.

Should Hornibrook show the consistency he did in this game throughout the offseason it just may quite the vocal critics and shut up any talk of an open quarterback competition.

It does leave the biggest offseason question mark though. Which version of Alex Hornibrook is the real one?

There’s the confident guy who can throw darts all over the field in any situation, which was on full display in the Orange Bowl and at times during parts of other games this season. Then there’s the guy who gets rattled after a few hits or a bad interception and lets everything snowball from there.

Hornibrook was asked to carry the load against Ohio State and shrunk under that pressure. He rose to the occasion for the Badgers in the Orange Bowl though, and thus the conundrum of which Hornibrook is closer to the real thing.

Answering that question in the offseason answers the big question at quarterback — will there be a competition for the starting job in 2018 or not?

What Hornibrook put on film against Miami in the Orange Bowl is a definitive NO to that question, but it also was just one magical game.

Let’s see if that magic wears off or if it is a springboard to better things to come for Hornibrook and the Badgers offense.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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