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How Wisconsin players adapt to Jack Coan at quarterback

Plus, how Cole Van Lanen worked his way back from injury so quickly.

Rutgers v Wisconsin Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Wisconsin heads into its road match-up against Penn State this weekend with an injured starting quarterback and the potential that its second-year back-up will receive his second career start.

Alex Hornibrook remained questionable on Thursday’s updated injury report with a head injury that kept him out of the second half in last week’s win over Rutgers. True sophomore quarterback Jack Coan stepped up in the final two quarters and looked a smidge more comfortable than a game prior against Northwestern.

There are obvious differences between the two quarterbacks. Hornibrook is a redshirt junior southpaw that has started 31 career games. The right-handed Coan—technically a true sophomore still and could redshirt if he does not play in more than four games—could make his second career start in a rough road environment of 106,572 fans at Beaver Stadium in State College.

After the gamer on Saturday, a reporter asked junior wide receiver A.J. Taylor after the game about the differences between the two quarterbacks, which piqued my interest.

“When you’re not thinking [about it], you really don’t notice a lot of differences,” Taylor said. “When you kind of think about it, the way the ball spins, that’s actually different. It plays a little bit of a factor, but there’s not too much of a difference, I’d say. I’d say they both play hard, they both play well so we just got to go out there and make plays.”

What Taylor said intrigued me a bit about the spin of the ball, or how the ball comes out on a throw, from a left- or right-handed player. On Tuesday, redshirt sophomore wide receiver Kendric Pryor noted the slight difference between catching the ball between a left or right-handed quarterback, but still maintained the receivers have to adjust.

“I mean, me, I’m used to it now because my quarterback in high school was a righty and then when I first got here, Bart [Houston] was a righty,” said Pryor, who has caught a touchdown pass from both quarterbacks this season. “Then Alex is a lefty, but as a receiver, you got to catch the ball regardless of however the ball comes out,” Pryor said. “To me, honestly ... I could tell a little difference, but it’s not a big enough difference where you notice it. I feel like as a receiver you have to catch it regardless if it’s coming from a righty or a lefty.”

With Hornibrook being the starter for so long, timing between him and his receiving targets may be more in sync as well. Pryor called out that experience Hornibrook has over Coan, but also noted how the latter is improving.

“He’s confident in making the right reads and with us being in the right place at the right time, I think like our timing’s getting pretty good,” Pryor said. “That’s what practice is for. Just us kind of working on that and if he don’t like something, like after practice kind of just getting those throws down so we can get the timing right. I think Jack has done a really good job so far of just being calm, reading through the routes and finding the right people in the open.”

B5Q did not have an opportunity to speak with any running backs this week prior to the match-up against Penn State (11 a.m., ABC), but one main unit that would have to potentially adjust would be the offensive line. With Hornibrook in, the right side essentially is the blind side; with Coan under center, it flips back to the traditional left side of the line.

Though I did not speak with the entire offensive line, redshirt junior David Edwards explained the process he goes through as a right tackle, namely in pass protection.

“I think you kind of have to know what the quarterback—like Alex and Jack—are trying to do when things aren’t going well,” Edwards said on Tuesday. “If everybody’s covered, for example, Alex likes to move it around and move. Jack likes to kind of sit down and go through his reads.

“So to me, knowing that Jack likes to sit back there, adjusts me a little bit more just because I know I have to take a little bit more air out of the set towards the d-linemen; whereas Alex, I can be a vertical player knowing that he’s going to step up and move around. Little things like that.”

How Cole Van Lanen returned to the field so quickly last week

With a season filled with injuries to key players for Wisconsin, a reversal to good fortune arose for redshirt sophomore left tackle Cole Van Lanen returning last week.

Initially ruled out on the Oct. 29 preliminary injury report, Wisconsin upgraded Van Lanen to questionable on Nov. 1 after suffering what was officially labeled a left leg injury. Then, he actually played on Saturday in the win over Rutgers.

“I ended up having best case scenario,” Van Lanen said on Tuesday. “My progression just every day significantly got better to the point that where none of us thought it would. Once Thursday hit, I’m like, ‘I can play,’ so we made that decision and I thought I did well. Now I need to build from there for next week. I want to be 100 percent healthy to go.”

Van Lanen explained he “literally just put in every second” he had outside of school to recover from his sprained ankle last week, from icing it at home constantly to treatment and rehab work in before and after his courses.

“After practice, before class, after class, like I was in here consistently, trying to get that better, and I think that has a big part of the reason why I could make it for the game,” Van Lanen said.

Though redshirt junior Jon Dietzen started the game at left tackle last weekend—and also eight of the nine games this season—Van Lanen has been a critical element to the offensive line in working in at that position.

“I really really didn’t want to be away from these guys,” Van Lanen said. “I felt like it was my job to work my butt off to get back as soon as possible. Like I said, got back faster than expected and I mean I’m just so happy I could be back in the game. Things worked out very well.”