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Michigan vs. Wisconsin: QBs Wilton Speight, Alex Hornibrook can make names Saturday

Photo: Andy Shippy

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Given the circumstances this past Saturday, Wisconsin redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook played about as well as anyone could have played against Michigan State.

On the road in East Lansing, facing the defending Big Ten-champion Spartans… Spartans who have built a reputation by playing hard-hitting, fundamentally sound football for the past six-plus years. First start of his career. Sixteen-for-26, 195 yards and a touchdown.

He helped deliver a thorough 30-6 domination this past weekend; it was one of Michigan State’s worst losses of the Mark Dantonio era and one of the most important victories of the Paul Chryst era in Madison.

Talk about the 6-foot-4, 211-pounder’s debut. But also talk about the need for him to do it again — or at least one-up that showing for the No. 8-ranked Badgers — this Saturday versus the No. 4-ranked Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor.

Two well-matched defenses, too. Despite losing the yardage battle this past Saturday, 325-317, the Badgers held a typically potent Spartans offense to just two first-half field goals.

On the flip, Michigan redshirt sophomore quarterback will make just the fifth start of his career. The “ascending” playmaker also has a stout defense that, despite allowing a few big plays, has limited opponents to scraps and leftovers.

“It’s very, very interesting from all those perspectives,” Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh said during his Monday press conference at the Crisler Center. “Alex (Hornibrook) had a heck of a good ballgame (vs. MSU), really acquitted himself well… made a name for himself.

“(I was) very impressed with how he played, the accuracy of his throws. The poise with which he played; it was impressive.”

Of course, the same thing could be said for Speight, who’s 4-0 in his first season as starting quarterback.

The 6-foot-6, 234-pounder has continuously shown improvements while earning higher levels of respect from peers and coaches. Check the Penn State game, the Colorado game, the UCF game — even his debut as starter against Hawaii — and you’ll see another young QB with a chance to make a statement Saturday.

“Wilton has also been impressive in that regard as well, playing with great preparation and confidence and poise,” Harbaugh said. “Unusual to be that new to play, really, in big games…”

Want to get inside the mind of a quarterback? Ask a question about a quarterback. If anyone knows, it’s Harbaugh — a former NFL signal-caller and Michigan star.

“I think back, you know, when I was the same age as they were, you know, the same kind of experience of playing in your first couple of ballgames — both of those guys are doing better, in my mind, than I did and some other guys did when they were young,” Harbaugh said. “(Speight and Hornibrook) playing with more poise and awareness, preparation and confidence — all of those things.

“Both of those guys have been impressive in that regard.”

Speight’s had the luxury of the home advantage, though. He’s yet to start on the road. Hornibrook, however, has to go back-to-back. Could that pose an issue?

Harbaugh doesn’t think so.

“He’s acquitted himself very well (on the road) — he’s got that experience, right?” Harbaugh said. “I think he would be very confident in what he could do.”

Four weeks ago, Hornibrook lost out on top dibs to redshirt senior Bart Houston, who quarterbacked the 4-0 Badgers through the first three games. However, on Saturday, it’ll be Hornibrook’s left arm under center as two Big Ten heavies collide for the first time as top-10 teams.

It’ll be Hornibrook looking to prove he’s the answer for Wisconsin and one of the league’s up-and-comers versus Speight, who’s looking to do the same thing for Michigan.

Speight vs. Hornibrook. Michigan vs. Wisconsin. Pivotal, on all kinds of fronts, for a pair of top-10 programs.

Who saw that one coming?

Follow Adam Biggers of Today’s U on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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