The University of Wisconsin will have its starting quarterback available Saturday against Rutgers.
The Badgers removed Alex Hornibrook from their updated injury report Thursday, and coach Paul Chryst confirmed the junior has cleared the concussion protocol.
Hornibrook, who missed last week’s 31-17 loss at Northwestern, has completed 59.6 percent of his passes this season for 1,251 yards with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Sophomore Jack Coan made his first career start against the Wildcats, connecting on 20-of-31 passes for 158 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and a lost fumble.
Hornibrook’s return should allow the Badgers to redshirt Coan as they hoped to when the season began. A new NCAA rule allows players to see action in up to four games and still maintain that year of eligibility.
“I just think (Coan) was bought in that we were trying to keep his best interests in mind,” UW offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said Tuesday. “So I think he was all on board with the plan, and a game like (Northwestern), you’ve got to pick up and roll. And he knew we had confidence in him to be able to do that.
“I think he went into each game prepared to play because if something happened, any time the game was on the line, he was going in.”
Safety Scott Nelson (right leg) was ruled out Thursday, along with cornerback Travian Blaylock (right leg) and fullback Mason Stokke (left leg).
UW listed left tackle Cole Van Lanen (left leg) as out Monday but upgraded him to questionable Thursday.
“You never know. Each player’s different, and each injury,” Chryst said. “(Van Lanen’s) got a chance. You appreciate what he does and the work he puts into it to give himself that chance.”
Safety D’Cota Dixon (right leg), defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk (left leg) and cornerback Deron Harrell (right leg) all remained questionable, although defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard indicated on Wednesday that Dixon and Loudermilk are nearing a return after the duo has missed the past three games.
In recent years, the UW outside linebacker position transformed into an NFL factory. From Joe Schobert to Vince Biegel to T.J. Watt to Leon Jacobs and Garret Dooley — the Badgers fielded star after star to continue paving the way for one of the Big Ten’s best pass rushes.
After the position averaged 19 sacks over the past three years, however, this year’s outside linebackers compiled just three through UW’s first eight games.
With a new position coach, Andrew Van Ginkel hampered for much of the year and a defensive line short on pass rushers, the transition Badgers fans are accustomed to from that group hasn’t come together quite as seamlessly.
“I think that’s a big thing,” Van Ginkel said. “We pride ourselves on being the playmakers, and we haven’t really made too many sacks or forced fumbles. … We’ve done a good job at certain times, but there’s definitely a lot of things we can improve on. We leave a lot of plays on the field, I feel like.”
The position has started to show some life in recent weeks. Zack Baun’s pressure forced a fourth-down stop against Northwestern, and he also dropped into coverage to intercept a fourth-down pass that allowed UW to cut the Wildcats’ lead.
Van Ginkel’s also beginning to feel healthy, although he said he’s still not quite 100 percent from the ankle injury he suffered all the way back in Week 3 against BYU.
“Obviously, not really having a healthy Andrew Van Ginkel for a significant chunk of the season, it affects us,” Leonhard said. “He’s a dynamic player. It’s been nice. We’ve felt like we’ve had him back the last couple weeks, and the surface last week kind of hurt him. It’s tough because you’re going to be slipping and sliding on that grass, and not being 100 percent on an ankle doesn’t help you.”
Leonhard said he likes Baun’s progress after the junior came into the year rusty from missing all of last season with a foot injury.
The group also had to incorporate new techniques in the run game. Bobby April III took over as outside linebackers coach this offseason after Tim Tibesar became Oregon State’s defensive coordinator, and he brought a more aggressive style — a direct approach to taking on blockers that could allow the outside linebackers to play multiple gaps and make more plays.
Baun noted the players love the new style and believe it’s helped in the long run. The change led to a transition period, though, and Leonhard said that the Badgers are starting to apply it more consistently.
“We feel like they’re changes that can help us and have helped us, but obviously it’s going to take a little time for guys to trust it more than anything,” Leonhard said. “It’s tweaking a technique that maybe they’ve done for two or three years, and all of a sudden you’re being asked to do something differently. There’s definitely a learning curve, and I think the guys have handled it well.”