After the University of Wisconsin’s 31-17 loss at Northwestern on Saturday, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Joe Rudolph asked his veteran linemen if they remembered the first start of their careers.
Badgers sophomore quarterback Jack Coan took the reigns from Alex Hornibrook for the first time at Ryan Field as Hornibrook heals from a concussion. When those up front reflected on Rudolph’s request, it was easy to appreciate what Coan did against the Wildcats.
“I think back to my first time ever playing, and I was not as good as he was, that’s for sure,” left guard Michael Deiter said. “The confidence was there. The best part was when something bad would happen, you didn’t see him get worked up, get too nervous about the bad that was happening. He was just confident that the next play was going to be the next great play we had. That’s really all you want.”
Those great plays were few and far between for UW’s offense Saturday, and Coan could find plenty to work on after completing 20-of-31 passes for 158 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and a lost fumble.
There were certainly positive moments for the Sayville, N.Y., native, too, and he hopes to build off the performance if the Badgers need him to start again this week when Rutgers travels to Camp Randall Stadium.
UW coach Paul Chryst said Monday that Hornibrook, currently listed as questionable for this week, was still working through the concussion protocol, and Rudolph said the Badgers’ starter “did some work in practice” Tuesday.
Still, Coan needs to ready himself for another potential start.
“Even last week, I prepared the same way I always do,” Coan said. “I always prepare as if I’m the starter, so nothing really changed too much.”
If he does play, Saturday could certainly be different than the previous week, however. Coan said having played in a full game adds to his confidence, and the experience in Evanston — good and bad — can be valuable moving forward.
In particular, Coan said he believes he could work through his progressions more before checking down.
“There’s a number of things he can get better at and a number of things he can build on,” Chryst said. “That’s where going back to practice is a good thing, and you can work on it. And yet, there’s nothing like a game. Regardless of when Jack’s next snap is, he’ll absolutely grow from and learn from the experiences that he had this past weekend.”
UW still wants to redshirt Coan this season using a new rule that allows him to play in four games and retain his eligibility from this season.
He served as Hornibrook’s backup during his true freshman year in 2017, playing in six games and attempting just five passes. Trying to preserve his game-count, Coan entered last week’s trip to Northwestern having not played a single snap this season.
“Starting your first game dry, I think that’s pretty tough to do, and he managed it pretty well,” UW wide receiver A.J. Taylor said. “Yeah, it wasn’t he outcome we wanted, but I don’t think we can blame that solely on Jack. … He stayed poised. He stayed under control. Things got out of hand and, yeah, it happens, but I think he managed it pretty well.”
Those six games of limited playing time certainly weren’t a waste for Coan. It helped him experience some real-game situations before taking significant steps forward this offseason.
When Rudolph was asked if Coan entered last weekend far more prepared than if he had faced a similar situation last year, Rudolph replied, “Oh my gosh, yeah.”
Coan may not shake his inexperience after just one start, but the Badgers hold confidence that he can succeed in whatever capacity he’s asked to play the rest of the way.
“He’s just a steady guy, man,” Rudolph said. “He freaking works hard. And you see the natural abilities come out. But he’s really worked at learning this offense. And he did it in a game. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but he fought through it, did a lot of really good things. … Have all the confidence in the world he’ll grow a ton from that. He’s smart. He’s tough. He’s what you want.”
LT competition with Van Lanen out
Logan Bruss could see time at left tackle with sophomore Cole Van Lanen out this week, but Rudolph said Tuesday that David Moorman and Tyler Beach could compete with Bruss for snaps in that spot.
Van Lanen and Jon Dietzen have split reps at the position this season, but Dietzen isn’t healthy enough to play every snap. Bruss, listed as the No. 2 left tackle on the depth chart this week, still remains the leader to take over Van Lanen’s spot for now. The redshirt freshman has also earned snaps as a blocking tight end over the past five games.
“I trust him or I wouldn’t put him in the game as a tight end,” Rudolph said of Bruss. “He’s still got a little ways to go, but we’ve got to ramp it up and he’s got to be ready to roll. I also think there’ll be some competition there with David Moorman and Tyler Beach. Both of those guys have been progressing well, too. We’ll be OK. We’ll be alright.”