With the reported news of redshirt junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook in concussion protocol with an unclear status for Saturday’s game at Northwestern, Wisconsin may have to turn to sophomore Jack Coan to steer the offense.
A handful of passes and just a hint more games played currently show up on Coan’s statistics sheet through less than two years in the program, but B5Q thought it may be good to look at how the young quarterback got to this point where he could step up in a key spot against the Wildcats (11 a.m. CT, FOX).
Last year, Coan enrolled early at Wisconsin after an outstanding prep career in New York in which he he broke two Long Island records for career passing yards (9,787) and career touchdown passes (128). He used the experience from those 2017 spring practice sessions to his advantage in eventually overcoming Karé Lyles as the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart.
In six games during limited time, Coan completed all five of his attempts. Though it was limited duty later in games, four of Coan’s six games played were during road contests (BYU, Nebraska, Indiana and Minnesota).
Another series of spring and fall camps came and went leading up to the 2018 season, with some improvement showing especially in the latter. B5Q called out Coan’s performance back on Aug. 24 after fall camp, as he threw the ball well in those practices open to the media. He also received praise from a couple of key members of the program:
Based on his performances in those open practices, Coan made significant progress this year, and he looked sharp with some great passes throughout the first two weeks of August. From my viewpoint, he looked even more comfortable this summer compared to the spring, and I thought he looked solid in March and April.
Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph told reporters on Aug. 6 that he thought Coan’s biggest leap was the tempo that the young quarterback is playing with. When asked who was an offensive player that stood out during fall camp so far, redshirt senior and team captain Michael Deiter also called out the true sophomore signal caller.
“Obviously we have Alex, and it’s not like there’s a crazy competition there,” Deiter said on Monday, “but seeing him mature to the point where barring any crazy thing happening to Alex, we have a guy who is ready to play as the second quarterback. I think it’s been fun to watch him because he’s playing confident.
“He’s having more fun. When he was younger, he was really quiet, little more tense. Now, he’s loose and he’s making great decisions. He’s killing plays at the line of scrimmage. I think he’s been the guy that’s really stood out to me as really owning his role and being ready to play quarterback if he has to, and that’s definitely encouraging.”
The praise from Deiter back in late August was extremely telling about the growth of Coan and potentially leading the offense down the line.
Through seven games this year, however, he has not played a snap. Whenever some garbage or mop-up time has arisen, Wisconsin inserted redshirt freshman Danny Vanden Boom instead, with a potential philosophy of redshirting Coan to keep a year of eligibility with that new four-game rule in place.
Oddly enough prior to the news breaking, head coach Paul Chryst was asked on Thursday morning about how Coan has handled being on the sideline knowing he probably would not get in unless Hornibrook was injured:
“I think he’s been great. I think he’s been energized by—we’ll talk about it even weekly, kind of where we’re at with it. I think he’s been really purposeful in his work and preparation when he hasn’t gotten a lot of reps in practice.
“The other guy that I give credit to is Danny Vanden Boom, how he’s handled it. Part of it is when you see him in the film study and the off-the-field work, engaged. When a guy starts drifting, then you say, ‘OK, boy he’s handling it different.’ I think he’s enjoying and appreciating the opportunity to truly keep learning. Last year, when you’re a freshman, you’re going through a lot of stuff and all of them are firsts. So I think now that he’s been around, kind of taken one lap around the track and so I’ve been pleased and appreciate the way he’s handled it.”
Fast forward to after the news was reported about Hornibrook. During Chryst’s weekly radio show later on Thursday night, Wisconsin play-by-play broadcaster Matt Lepay noted that Hornibrook was “considered questionable.” Though the injury to UW’s QB1 was not discussed in detail, Chryst addressed Coan development and how the team has navigated the possibility of redshirting him:
“It’s been significant, and as it should be. You’re talking about a guy [Coan] that’s in his first year of college football, and then now second lap around the track. I think it’s interesting as you go through it. Here, he’s played in games and now Danny has played in games. I always thought for a player, when you get through those firsts, whatever that first is—first action, then a first tackle or first catch or first throw, right—and I think too that Jack and Danny really, they’ve got great purpose and they both have a vision of what they want to be, and so they are really sponges in the classroom. I think, not that they’re ultra serious and not that, but everything they’re trying to take in and get.
“I think Jack has done a great job in the spring and summer and I thought fall camp. Really what’s helped, too, is with them, we went in all along and said if the new rule has helped Jack, that should you be able to redshirt, we want to consider that. So we’re not going to play you maybe at the end [of games] kind of like what he played last year, and that’s where Danny’s gotten those [reps]. And yet, Jack has taken a ton of reps with our ones and our twos because we always knew that if something were to happen, he would be the next one to go in. He’d be the one to kind of start or to finish out the game if it’s in the balance. So both of them have embraced that role and done a good job, and should we need them, I feel confident with both.”
All eyes from the media will be on Ryan Field during team warm-ups on Saturday morning to see if Coan indeed takes the reins for the injured Hornibrook. If so, some Wisconsin fans who have clamored for the back-up to run the offense will get their wish.