If there was one thing I would’ve bet on, it was that Michigan State and Wisconsin would battle in a close game.

I felt pretty confident in that. After all, seven straight games decided by 10 points or less and two teams ranked three spots apart in the Associated Press poll suggested that would be the case.

Little did I know that Alex Hornibrook would look like a fourth-year starter on the road. I didn’t know that the Badger defense would look THAT good against a red-hot Michigan State offense.

But Saturdays are all about unexpected heroes rising to the occasion. There were definitely plenty of those this week:

Alex Hornibrook, Wisconsin QB — Paul Chryst just casually gave a redshirt freshman his first career start at quarterback on the road vs. a top-10 team. No biggie. Hornibrook converted 9 of 13 third downs for 136 yards against the vaunted Michigan State defense. Even better, he was 6-for-6 on third downs of 10 yards or longer. With nothing going in the running game, Hornibrook made some big-time throws and led Wisconsin to another impressive win away from Camp Randall. The Badgers are for real, y’all.

D’Cota Dixon, Wisconsin S — Leo Musso got the SportsCenter top-10 nominee for his scoop, spin and score, but that doesn’t happen unless Dixon makes a man’s hit against LJ Scott to pop that ball loose. Dixon made the play of the game and did just about everything else for the Badgers. He finished with a team-high seven tackles, he had his first career sack and he was huge in coverage. Tyler O’Connor never looked comfortable. Whether he was in coverage or blitzing, Dixon was a major reason why.

Josey Jewell, Iowa LB — The key sequence of the game was when Rutgers had the ball on Iowa’s 3-yard line with first-and-goal in a scoreless game at the end of the first half. On three straight plays, Rutgers came head on with Jewell. Those were just three of his game-high 12 tackles. They couldn’t have come at a better time. With the Hawkeye offense sputtering all afternoon, Jewell and the defense responded after being embarrassed last week.


David Blough, Purdue QB — After a horrific five-interception day two weeks ago, Blough was in need of a bounce-back game. He made far better decisions, and as a result, Purdue picked up a win it had to have. His 300 yards and two TD passes were the sexy stats, but the more impressive one was his 70-percent completion percentage. Against a Mountain West defense at home with two weeks to prepare, Blough had to be sharp. That he was. If he can keep the turnovers to a minimum, Blough has two winnable road games ahead.

Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska QB — Everybody was interested in seeing how Armstrong would come down from the high that was last week. Would he revert back to his old ways? Or did that show that Armstrong had turned a corner? If Saturday was any indication, Armstrong is a different guy than he was last year. Against a solid Northwestern defense, Armstrong racked up 378 total yards, 132 of which came on the ground. That was a career-high. More importantly, Armstrong avoided the costly turnover late and Nebraska avoided losing a sleeper game.

Shannon Brooks, Minnesota RB — How good was it to have this guy back? After a foot injury delayed his 2016 debut, Brooks made Gopher fans remember why they missed him. Rodney Smith was still the star with 99 yards and two scores, but Brooks flashed some impressive lateral quickness en route to 85 rushing yards. The sophomore actually ended up getting 13 carries, which was more work than I thought he’d get. The good news is that he was able to handle it and if there was any tentativeness, it didn’t show.

Tai’yon Devers, Minnesota DL — Ok, I get that Steve Richardson was the actual defensive star with four tackles for loss, but how can you not reward someone who makes a hit like this?!?!

Maurice Hurst, Michigan DT — Take your pick on the Michigan defense. Hurst gets the nod for his three tackles for loss. That was a theme for the Wolverines all day. Hurst and the Michigan defense racked up a whopping 13 tackles for loss. Saquon Barkley was held to 3.9 yards per carry and Trace McSorley was under fire all afternoon. Hurst also had one of Michigan’s six sacks, which was the unit’s biggest total in two years. That performance said more about the Hurst and Wolverines defensive front said more than anything they did in the first three games.

Karan Higdon, Michigan RB — Higdon missed the spring and summer with a knee injury and mono. Needless to say, he’s looking pretty healthy these days. The sophomore made the most of a career-high nine carries and recorded his first multi-touchdown game of his career. His 40-yard touchdown run was also the longest of his career. You could’ve given a game ball to a variety of Michigan backs on Saturday. De’Veon Smith looked great, as did Ty Isaac and Chris Evans. When six different backs score, maybe the game ball should just go to the entire offensive line.