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Wisconsin football: If Alex Hornibrook can’t play, Jack Coan needs to

You hear Paul Chryst talk about it almost every single Monday press conference.

“It’s always great to get back with the team and spend some time with them.”

The team. That’s the key here. Keep that in mind as we move forward.

Our good pal Jon Beidelschies writes for this website and wrote an article, a very nice article, talking about why the Badgers should bench Jack Coan this upcoming weekend in order to preserve his redshirt for next season, as Coan has played the four games allowed to retain his redshirt.

Fellas… let’s have some discourse.

Now, do I understand the thought process? Sure. The original thought, obviously, was to attempt to redshirt Coan early this season, when third-stringer Danny Vanden Boom took snaps in garbage time during blowouts in the first couple weeks of the season. That all changed when Alex Hornibrook entered concussion protocol (the first time) and prompted the debut of Coan as a starter on the road against Northwestern.

Every football coach in the country has one job: win as many football games as you can with your football team. That’s why Paul Chryst decided to start Coan three times this season, along with the second half of the Rutgers game. Coan gives the Wisconsin Badgers the best chance to win football games if Hornibrook is not ready to play.

That last sentence, in a nutshell, is 100 percent why Coan needs to start this upcoming Saturday, pending Hornibrook being unable to play against the Gophers.

While it’s easy as an outsider to play the long game and try to make decisions right now for the future of the program, it’s not the right one to make. I can tell you as a former player and coach that nothing but a 100-percent effort to win the next football game on your schedule is a quick way to lose games. Now, is it a bit of a bummer that if Hornibrook is unable to play against Minnesota, he’d likely be able to do so in the bowl game, leaving Coan at five games played and sacrificing his redshirt? You bet it is.

BUT. If you think that Coan doesn’t want to do everything he can do to win an eighth regular-season game on Saturday and keep Paul Bunyan’s Axe in Madison given the opportunity to do so, you’re simply believing your own lie. I can guarantee you Chryst feels the same way about it.

Football is a weird sport. These players prepare year-round for at least 12 and up to 15 opportunities to play the game. So while most probably take it as lip service from Chryst in those weekly news conferences, he means it wholeheartedly. In an ideal world, would Chryst be able to preserve Coan’s redshirt? Yes. But the reality is that Wisconsin has a chance to go 8–4, win its most prized rivalry game and put itself in a position for a better bowl bid (which fucking matters, by the way. I get fans are disappointed that Wisconsin isn’t in the national title conversation, but acting like a bowl game doesn’t matter because it isn’t the College Football Playoff is ignorant and lazy.) Coan is going to, and should, start if the opportunity presents itself.

Another thing that Jon brought up in his article that—with no disrespect—made my head spin, was:

The gap between Coan and Vanden Boom is not significant enough to warrant burning a redshirt

By virtue of the fact that he has gotten the start in lieu of Hornibrook, it is obvious that the coaching staff views Coan as a better quarterback than Vanden Boom. Frankly, the former’s play over the past four games shows that he is a sophomore with a lot of room for growth. Feverish comeback against Purdue aside, over the past four games it’s not entirely clear that Coan has been asked to do anything Vanden Boom could not.

This is where I drew the line.

Danny Vanden Boom is a redshirt freshman who has thrown exactly one (!) pass in his collegiate career. It was a three-yard completion for a touchdown to true freshman receiver Taj Mustapha. That’s dope as hell.

Jack Coan has started three road games and has gained valuable in-game experience, which has supplemented his development. While it hasn’t always looked pretty, his two touchdown passes to Danny Davis were the two best throws he’s made thus far this season, and he’s only going to continue to improve as a passer and a game manager.

Vanden Boom hasn’t taken a snap since the Illinois game back on Oct. 20, and you’re going to ask him, after receiving few to no reps in team offensive practice sessions to come in and start against a rival that’s playing for bowl eligibility? That’s … pretty ambitious.

The other dynamic I wanted to hit here is, again, about the team and winning as many games as possible. Try to look Chris James, Taiwan Deal, Mark Saari, Alec Ingold, Zander Neuville, Michael Deiter, Beau Benzschawel, Micah Kapoi, Olive Sagapolu, Andrew Van Ginkel, T.J. Edwards, Ryan Connelly, D’Cota Dixon, Rafael Gaglianone, and P.J. Rosowski in the face and tell them, “Well, we’re going to sit Jack in order to protect his eligibility for next year. I know this is a huge game for you guys, and it’s a rivalry game and it’s the last game you’ll ever play in Camp Randall and it’s Senior Day, but we’re just not going to do absolutely everything that we can to win your final game and give us some momentum heading into the bowl game.”

I’m sure that will go over well.

While I understand the thought process, I don’t think it’s something you want to do on the regular—sacrifice a very winnable game in order to preserve the eligibility of a season he might not start in, over the good of the entire team and program.

So, if Hornibrook can’t play on Saturday, the right decision, the best decision, and the tough decision is to start Coan at quarterback against the Minnesota Fighting Boat Rowers. You make that decision for the kid, who’s worked his ass off to prepare for these games and play in them. You make that decision for the team, whose players prepare and fight every week to win football games that they work for 350 or more days of the year. And by God, you make that decision for the seniors, who have seen multiple head coaches, coordinators, and guys who have stuck out their careers in Madison, through the good and the bad.

Jack Coan should start this football game on Saturday, redshirt be damned. As a wise man once said: “You play to win the game!”

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