For just about every year of my life the quarterback play at the University of Wisconsin has been...fine. It’s usually fine. There are anomalies like when Russell Wilson or Allen Evridge were under center, but for the most part a Wisconsin quarterback will get the job done with limited fuss and ideally you won’t be talking about him after the game.
The Badgers are going into the 2020 season with some uncertainty in the backfield. All-American running back Jonathan Taylor went pro after his junior season and was selected in the second round by the Colts. There are a host of intriguing options that will be vying for carries this season, including potential starter Nakia Watson, third down back Garrett Groshek, redshirt freshman Julius Davis and true freshman Jalen Berger.
No one is expecting any of those dudes to be Jonathan Taylor, and this isn’t an article about running backs, so there may be some room in the playbook for some ::audible gasp:: more passing plays! Wisconsin has a pretty perfect candidate with whom to throw the ball more too: senior quarterback Jack Coan.
Coan, a native of Sayville, N.Y., is coming off his best season and one of the program’s best seasons for a quarterback. He had the third most passing yards (2,727), third highest completion percentage (69.6%, which also led the B1G) and the seventh most touchdowns (18) in a single season for a UW signal caller and he also only threw five interceptions.
Pro Football Focus ranked every single FBS quarterback at various points throughout the season. Wisconsin’s preseason ranking was No. 106 and Coan ended the season as the No. 40 QB in PFF’s rankings. Not too shabby.
He was sharp to most levels of the field but really found his groove with Quintez Cephus to the deep right part of the field. There are several distinct areas where Coan had success but there were 132 quarterbacks to attempt at least 10 passes outside the numbers and 20 yards downfield. Coan graded out with the sixth-highest passing grade, connecting on six big-time throws, four touchdowns and 243 yards on such attempts and five of those big-time throws were targeted to Cephus.
People often think of Wisconsin as purely a smash-mouth, run first, run second and run third type of team, but the Badgers actually run a pretty diverse and intricate offense. In a recent article on PFF naming the top “offensive hidden gems” in college football, they noted how often the Badgers ran plays with different personnel groupings:
With their use of different personnel groupings, formations and pass concepts, the Wisconsin passing attack is not necessarily a plug-and-play system for quarterbacks, but Coan performed admirably. Wisconsin ran over 90 snaps in four different personnel groupings. For reference, LSU had two.
PFF also noted that Coan seemingly had no “middle ground” when it came to his game performances in 2019. He was either lights out or well below average. An improvement in the consistency department is what is in order for Coan and the Badgers to take the next step in the B1G.
We would also be remiss if we didn’t mention that Coan lost his favorite target from last year, wide receiver and Detroit Lions draft pick, Quintez Cephus. Cephus served as a security blanket of sorts for Coan. A guy that Coan could just throw it up to and he would more often than not come down with it. Cephus had 59 catches for 901 yards and seven scores, all of which ranked him No. 7 in the conference.
The pass catching weapons cupboard is not bare, however, as seniors Danny Davis III and Kendric Pryor are back at wide receiver and junior tight end Jake Ferguson is also in the mix. The Badgers should also have their traditionally stout offensive line that will help keep Coan upright throughout the season.
It is not outrageous to think that Coan could make another leap in his development before his senior season and that could be the kind of thing Wisconsin’s offense needs to help offset the losses of Taylor and Cephus. Like it or not, Jack Coan, people will definitely be talking about you after the games this year.