Passing marks: Hornibrook leads FSU to win

Although “good enough” isn’t the most flattering description for a starting quarterback, Alex Hornibrook was indeed good enough for Florida State (3-2), as he led the Seminoles to a 31-13 victory against North Carolina State (3-2). 

With starting quarterback James Blackman out of the lineup with a knee injury, Hornibrook and the Seminoles were able to succeed when faced with an unfamiliar challenge against a perennially stout NC State defensive front. The victory earned them their first back-to-back conference wins since 2016. 

“He prepares his tail off,” coach Willie Taggart said of Hornibrook. “He stays after practice with his receivers and gets extra work in. If he doesn’t have class or anything, he is up in the film room learning and going over the game plan. He’s a veteran, and he understands what it takes (to win).”

It’s no secret that Cam Akers has held the majority of the offensive responsibilities for the ’Noles so far this season. With all his success, the lingering concern was always going to be how the offense responded when the run game simply wasn’t working. 

The Seminoles went into halftime without gaining a single rushing yard – nearly all of the positive yardage gained was negated by the yardage lost on the four sacks Florida State allowed in the first half. Despite finishing with 87 yards and a touchdown when all was said and done, Akers was held ineffective for most of the game.

The ’Noles had to turn to the air to facilitate some offense and Hornibrook delivered. In his first start as a Seminole, the Wisconsin graduate transfer threw for a career-high 316 yards and three touchdowns. 

One of those touchdowns was a 40-yard pass to Ontaria Wilson, who caught his first touchdown pass since switching from defensive back to wide receiver.

“I was so happy for him,” said fellow wide receiver Tamarrion Terry. “Once I saw the ball in the air, I almost ran on the field – I thought I was gonna get a flag myself. I was just so happy (for him) and it was a blessing for him to score his first touchdown.”

Terry and Wilson were teammates at Turner County High School in Ashburn, Ga., before both committing to Florida State in 2017. They collectively caught all three touchdown passes from Hornibrook on Saturday. 

Despite having a career day, it’s hard to miss the areas that are in need of improvement from Hornibrook. The Wolfpack were able to sack him eight times over the course of the game and, while not every instance was specifically his fault, some sacks were easily avoidable.

Some sacks pushed the Seminoles out of field-goal range, leading to a missed field goal by a struggling Ricky Aguayo on one drive and a punt on the other. In hindsight, the points would have only made the win margin a little more comfy, but in a game of “what if’s,” things could have easily gone the other way. 

In addition, there were multiple occasions in which Hornibrook made ill-advised passes that were nearly intercepted in Seminole territory. One such pass was a floater that hung in the air after Hornibrook was hit and miraculously found the hands of wide receiver Keith Gavin. If those passes were indeed intercepted, they very well could have turned the tide of the game. 

With that being said, Hornibrook proved that even without the production of Cam Akers, he and the offense can be fruitful. The 31 points scored by Florida State on Saturday marked the fourth time that the ’Noles scored 30+ points this season. (They only scored 30+ points three times last season.)

According to Hornibrook, there is still room for improvement. 

“I always look at what I can do better,” he said. “I know there are some things I can clean up (like) taking some of those sacks…there were a handful of times where I could have thrown the ball away, when things weren’t there. Once we get the drive going things smooth out for us.”

Whether or not Hornibrook will start in two weeks when the team travels to play Clemson remains to be seen. But Florida State fans can be comforted at least in knowing that there is real depth to the quarterback position and that the offense does not end with Akers, it only begins.

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