NEW YORK CITY — The University of Wisconsin didn’t ask much of Jack Coan in Thursday’s Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. With Jonathan Taylor rushing for more than 200 yards and a defense stifling every Hurricanes’ scoring opportunity, the Badgers didn’t need to.
Even so, those who watched the sophomore quarterback in his first start at Northwestern nine weeks ago likely noticed an uptick in confidence over his two most recent outings – a triple-overtime victory at Purdue and Thursday’s 35-3 rout of Miami.
From now through August, the biggest question surrounding UW may indeed be at the quarterback position, where Coan could be in position to challenge three-year starter Alex Hornibrook atop the depth chart.
“I’m not really sure, to be honest,” Coan said about competing for the starting job next year. “I just really stay in the moment and try to focus on myself, and whatever happens, happens.”
That moment for a potential quarterback competition’s coming soon, however, as spring practice begins in less than three months.
Hornibrook completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 1,532 yards with 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in nine games this season. His performance dipped from last year, particularly over the second half of the season – when he also struggled to overcome a head injury.
The junior’s concussion symptoms have reappeared after being cleared to play on two occasions. Most recently, he returned against Minnesota in UW’s final regular-season contest, where he turned the ball over four times in a 37-15 loss, and participated in multiple weeks of bowl prep before being ruled out for Thursday’s game.
Chryst said last week it’s too early to discuss Hornibrook’s long-term future. He’ll first need to get healthy before focusing on a potential competition to maintain his starting job.
“I don’t know too much about that whole scenario, but I do trust our trainers and the doctors that he’s seeing,” UW wide receiver A.J. Taylor said. “He will get the best care. … (Hornibrook’s) keeping his head up, and I know Alex loves to compete. He’s a great competitor, and he’s ready to compete.”
In five games this season, Coan completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 515 yards with six total touchdowns and three interceptions. His 5.5 yards per attempt, however, are the lowest for any Badgers quarterback over the last decade who attempted more than 15 passes.
When asked if the Badgers will open up the job for Coan or other challengers, Badgers coach Paul Chryst said the quarterback position’s not where UW wants it to be and that “clearly we’ve got to get better at that position.”
“Alex has obviously played a lot of games, and Jack, it was big – he got a lot of real meaningful snaps this year,” Chryst said. “But I think everyone on our team, everyone on our roster (will be competing). There might be one position that’s not, (running back).”
If UW does hold an open competition at quarterback this offseason, it’s currently unclear if any of the Badgers’ signal callers besides Hornibrook and Coan would be included in that battle.
Incoming freshman Graham Mertz, who plans on enrolling early next month, comes in as the highest-rated quarterback recruit to choose the Badgers. Rising redshirt freshman Chase Wolf came to Madison as an exciting prospect this summer, and Danny Vanden Boom saw the field in a very limited capacity as the No. 3 quarterback this season.
Any competition at the position will likely start with Hornibrook and Coan, however, and latter’s experience this season may have placed him in a better position to challenge for the spot as a junior.
“He’s come really far, actually,” A.J. Taylor said of Coan. “Coming from the first game to the second, third, fourth – experience can really teach you so much, and I think you can just tell when a player has a bit of experience versus a player where it might be their first game. You can definitely tell Jack is a lot more comfortable with his role now.”