Be careful what you wish for…it was the refrain going through my mind as I sat in the corner of the end zone at Ryan Field watching the Wisconsin Badgers 2018 season fall apart.
After watching redshirt junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook struggle to get the Badgers offense going in big games again this season, many were calling for backup sophomore quarterback Jack Coan to get his chance to lead the offense.
It has been a common refrain on Twitter and across the Badgers fanbase as they saw Hornibrook continue to struggle in the big games. As it turns out, his performance against Miami (FL) in the Orange Bowl was more exception than the rule.
So, what is the point of playing an inconsistent QB that can’t get the job done against the best opponents on the schedule? There has to be something better, and that meant Coan becoming one of the more talked-about players in the UW twitterverse.
Those advocating for change and the hope of a spark at QB got their wish on Saturday afternoon against the Big Ten West division leading Northwestern Wildcats.
If ever there was a time to show that change would be the spark to ignite an offense that has become wholly one-dimensional, this was that chance.
With Hornibrook out after failing concussion protocol following an injury in the Illinois game the previous week, Coan had the big stage to showcase his readiness to lead UW’s offense.
There was some reason to be hopeful, as Coan came in to the game a perfect 5 of 5 passing on his career in mostly mop-up duty during 2017.
Instead, Coan largely failed to provide that spark, completing 20 of 31 passes for only 158 yards (5.1 yards per attempt). Coan did throw a touchdown pass, but he couldn’t sustain drives most of the game.
Wisconsin had just three of 14 drives go for more than five plays, including two three and outs and five of those 15 drives going for less than five plays. There were three fumbles, one by Coan with the Badgers backed up against their own goal line and two from star running back Jonathan Taylor.
Given Taylor’s struggles with ball security, it was up to Coan to give UW the big plays needed. Instead, he was often times quick to look to the check down and too locked in on a single receiver.
His lone touchdown came to Kendric Pryor with just 8 minutes left to play and UW in desperation mode already. If there was a sliver of hope it came in the fact that Coan seemed to actually play better when the thinking stopped and the game speed increased.
But, for those hoping that Coan would come in and light the world on fire, that certainly didn’t happen.
Judging a player by one game is harsh, but when you are clamoring for change you really have to see the promise and the spark to make that change make sense.
That didn’t happen against a bigger team like Northwestern. But, this may not be the end of the Coan story in 2018. He may get a second chance on Saturday, as Hornibrook is still in the concussion protocol heading in to the game against Rutgers.
Will the drop down in competition help Coan gain the confidence needed to spark something in this offense? Maybe.
But, if the Badgers want to compete at the top of the college football world, it needs more than either Hornibrook or Coan have been able to offer to date against those types of teams.
So far there have been no indications of the next Darrell Bevell’s, John Stocco’s or Scott Tolzien’s let alone a Russell Wilson in this quarterback room.
That begs the question — if neither of those two are the answer, then when will the Badgers finally get the needed play at quarterback?
The answer may not be something most fans will like to hear — it may not come for another few years.
That’s because the hopes rest on the No. 4 ranked pro-style quarterback in the 2019 class — Graham Mertz.
With Hornibrook likely entrenched as the starter and in his senior season in 2019, would Mertz come in and unseat him that quickly? Would Chryst allow that type of competition to even unfold in the offseason?
A lot may depend on what happens down the stretch for the Badgers. With big games coming up against Penn State and Purdue, there is still one last chance for Hornibrook to prove he has what it takes in those scenarios to be the spark.
History suggests that won’t happen, but that is why they play the games.
As for Mertz, there certainly will be a lot of hype and attention on him to be the savior in short order. The good news is that the coaching staff won’t give him anything he can’t handle and certainly won’t be putting undo pressure on him even if his future is very bright.
Mertz has shown the ability to compete with the best quarterbacks in his class. He also has shown he has the biggest upside of any of Wisconsin’s young quarterbacks.
Can that upside turn in to top-level production that will make defenses respect the passing game as much as the run game? It’s a question we won’t know the answer to for some time to come.
Until then, let’s remember Saturday’s lesson that sometimes you really do need to be careful what you wish for.
As it turns out, your favorite backup quarterback may be the backup for a reason after all.
REPORT: Former Badgers QB Hornibrook transfers to FSU
It apparently didn’t take long for former Wisconsin badgers starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook to find a new home.
After spending a few days on a visit to Florida State, reports indicate he will land with the Seminoles.
Hornibrook announced his intention to graduate in May and move on from the Badgers in a statement at the end of February.
His move to FSU makes a lot of sense, as the Seminoles have a huge void at QB and hardly anyone in the position group this upcoming season.
Following the dismissal of former starting QB Deondre Francois, the Seminoles has just one scholarship quarterback on the roster.
That was redshirt sophomore James Blackman, who has started in the past but also explored his own potential transfer this offseason.
As for the Badgers, this spring will see a wide open competition for the starting quarterback job.
There is four-game starter Jack coan, along with walk-on Danny Vanden Boom. We’ll also get the first big look at redshirt freshman Chase Wolf and the highest rated quarterback to come to Wisconsin in Graham Mertz.
It appears both sides of this transfer are getting what they want and that’s the best outcome you could hope for.
Hornibrook won’t have to compete with four other quarterbacks and the Badgers can get a better read on their realistic options for 2019 and beyond this spring.
2019 NFL Combine results for Badgers players
The next step up for many former Wisconsin Badgers is the NFL. For eight players that step included an invite to the annual player combine, where teams test and poke and prod players for an entire weekend.
So, how did the Badgers fare? Let’s take a look at results and talk coming out of the combine.
40-yard dash: 4.81 seconds
Bench Press: 20 reps
Vertical Jump: 33.5″
Broad Jump: 119.0″
What was said about Dixon (from Lance Zierlein): Although he was an interchangeable, versatile safety in college, Dixon may need a more static position in the pros to minimize his exposure. He can handle man cover duties, but his instincts and anticipation aren’t good enough to make up for his lack of closing burst and his lack of height limits his ability to challenge deep jump balls. He does have some talent, however, and could compete for a backup role with an eye on dime linebacker or a Cover-2, Cover-4 safety.
Prospect Grade: 5.26 (NFL Backup or Special Teams Potential)
40-yard dash: 5.24 seconds
Bench Press: 20 reps
What was said about Benzschawel: Tall, pass-blocking specialist who will need to prove he can be serviceable against NFL power in the run game to become a future starter. Benzschawel plays with good technique and an understanding of blocking concepts in the run game, but might lack the play strength at point of attack NFL teams look for. However, his allure to GMs and offensive coaches could be his ability to match up against athletic, sub-package rushers in today’s quickness-oriented rush approaches.
Prospect Grade: 5.55 (Chance to Become NFL Starter)
40-yard dash: 5.23 seconds
Bench Press: 21 reps
Vertical Jump: 28″
Broad Jump: 105.0″
3-cone drill: 7.88 seconds
20-yard shuttle: 4.81 seconds
What was said: Durable, capable guard/center prospect who knows how to play the game but might lack the athletic elements needed to become a full-time starter on the next level. Dieter’s experience in a variety of pro-style rushing schemes and his overall technique work are in his favor while his experience across the line offer flexibility that could lock him into an NFL roster as an early backup with the potential to step in and start if needed.
Prospect Grade: 5.60 (Chance to Become NFL Starter)
40-yard dash: 5.28 seconds
Bench Press: —
Vertical Jump: 25.5″
Broad Jump: 99.0″
3-cone drill: 7.69 seconds
20-yard shuttle: 4.77 seconds
What was said: Quarterback-turned-tight-end-turned-right-tackle who has maintained his light feet but is missing functional strength and body control to hold his ground against NFL power. Edwards isn’t the technician we’ve come to expect from the Wisconsin program and he’ll need additional technique work to help make up for some of his physical deficiencies. He’s still a pup as an offensive lineman and he should improve with more experience and weight room work, but it’s tough to project him behind average backup to low-end starter at this point.
Prospect Grade: 5.44 (NFL Backup or Special Teams Potential)
40-yard dash: 4.66 seconds
Bench Press: —
Vertical Jump: 34.5″
Broad Jump: 118.0″
3-cone drill: 7.09 seconds
20-yard shuttle: 4.31 seconds
What was said: Connelly fits the Wisconsin mold of tough, productive linebackers who end up lacking either size or speed as NFL projections. He’s not big enough to play SAM and he’s not fast enough to play WILL so he’ll end up as a slightly smaller/slower 3-4 or 4-3 inside backer. He does a decent job of playing around his deficiencies and finding ways to make impact tackles and he’s fairly instinctive is zone coverage. He has the demeanor and play traits to become a solid special teamer with average backup potential.
Prospect Grade: 5.36 (NFL Backup or Special Teams Potential)
40-yard dash: —
Bench Press: 16
Vertical Jump: —
Broad Jump: —
3-cone drill: —
20-yard shuttle: —
What was said: Stout four-year starter who shows up and does his job each week as a banger in the box with surprising ball skills to flip the field. He improved each season and his off-season weight loss is indicative of how seriously he takes the game. He lacks desired chase speed and might be maxed out as a player, but he doesn’t make many dire mistakes that hurt his team. Edwards is a backup inside linebacker for a 3-4 or 4-3 defense with the ability to step up and handle starter’s duties if needed.
Prospect Grade: 5.47 (NFL Backup or Special Teams Potential)
Andrew Van Ginkel
Bench Press: 17
Vertical Jump: 38″
Broad Jump: 123.0″
3-cone drill: 6.89 seconds
20-yard shuttle: 4.14 seconds
What was said: Unimposing 3-4 outside linebacker with decent athletic ability but a concerning lack of aggression as a run blocker and consistency as a pass-rusher. Van Ginkel has the motor to tally stats with effort and secondary rush, but he needs a better rush plan and more proactive hands to set him up for success in attacking the quarterback. He will need a lot more strength and toughness to hold up as a run defender, but his length and production on special teams could give him a shot at the back end of the roster or on a practice squad.
Prospect Grade: 5.0 (50-50 chance to make an NFL roster)
Hornibrook’s gone, but questions remain the same for Badgers QB’s
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
It’s hard to argue that the formula that the Wisconsin Badgers have used for nearly 30 years has been highly successful. Play great defense, pound your opponent in to submission and catch them with a deep ball or two along the way.
UW has gone to six Rose Bowls, participated in two College Football Playoff bowl games and won six Big Ten titles in those nearly 30 years and with said formula.
But, that last part has been missing from the Badgers offense for awhile now…you know, since Russell Wilson stopped dazzling us with his rocket arm and escapability back in 2011.
From Joel Stave to Alex Hornibrook and other quarterbacks in between, the UW offense has struggled to find that guy who makes opponents respect his arm enough to stop stuffing the line of scrimmage.
With the news on Wednesday that Hornibrook would be transferring from the program for his final season, the competition is now wide open for the next Badgers starting quarterback.
The bar for success is admittedly low, after all, the Badgers finished 102nd in the country last season with 14 interceptions and 119th in passing offense (157.7 passing yards per game). Nearly anything would be better than what the quarterbacks of 2018 produced.
Losing Hornibrook does mean losing an experienced player, but does it matter much when that player had 33 interceptions in as many games played?
Sure, he was 26-6 as a starter over three years. But, was that because of or in spite of him? I’d argue having one of the best defenses and running back groups in the country has been the driver of that success, not Hornibrook.
Which brings me to the question at hand — is there a quarterback on the Badgers roster that can be someone other teams have to respect? Is there another player ala Russell Wilson, who is capable of taking this offense from ground and pound to three dimensional?
Let’s start with a look at the only quarterback on the roster to play a college game — Jack Coan.
Last season we got the biggest glimpse of Coan to date and what was shown wasn’t all that promising. He played in five games, starting four and completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 515 yards and 5 touchdowns to 3 interceptions.
There was plenty left to be desired, but I also wonder if it was because of too much protection from the coaching staff or just not being ready for the situation. Often the game plan called for Coan to dink and dunk the ball and he was never really given the opportunity to unleash the deep ball.
It seemed like the coaching staff was trying hard to get away with not having to put the game on the sophomore quarterback.
Coan now has those four starts under his belt and with Honribrook out of the way has the experience advantage over everyone else. But, is experience enough?
We’re about to find out, because the Badgers have one of the top quarterbacks in the 2019 class in the fold this spring in Graham Mertz.
Last we saw him, he was setting records at The All-American Bowl game en route to MVP honors. He was flinging the ball deep and accurately, something Badgers fans haven’t seen from a quarterback since Wilson came in to save this team in 2011.
But, there is bound to be a learning curve as Mertz transitions away from spread-based concepts to more under center work. How that transition goes this spring and how quickly he understands and executes the playbook will be telling.
The good news is that we’ve seen Mertz challenged against the best competition in the country at the quarterback position and he’s lived up to billing on every occasion. If ever there was a QB up to the challenge of playing early in a Badgers uniform, it is Mertz.
But, that doesn’t mean he has to be “the guy” either. There are other options to consider already on the Badgers roster.
Both Danny Vanden Boom and Chase Wolf flashed moments of potential all last offseason. In fact, Vanden Boom outplayed Coan throughout most of last spring before tailing off a bit in the competition in the fall.
Could Vande Boom pick it back up this spring and become a viable option? The former Kimberly star and walk-on at UW certainly has played at a level that makes giving him a legitimate chance this spring worthwhile.
On the other hand, Wolf was one of five quarterbacks in the mix last offseason and his reps have been limited. He’ll likely see many more this spring and it’s a chance to shine.
There’s no doubt he’s the dark horse in the race to replace Hornibrook, but with a full year of studying and learning the Badgers offense you never know what will happen when he gets his chance this spring.
All of this leads me to this conclusion — no one, not even the coaching staff has a real answer as to whom will lead the Badgers offense in 2019. If anyone tells you they do, it’s just an uneducated guess at best.
But, what I do know is that spring camp provides the coaches and players the best opportunity to fully understand what the quarterbacks could be capable of in 2019.
There’s little need to get work in in the run game save for the offensive line, but what is going to be important is pressure-testing the quarterbacks. Doing so in a controlled environment like spring ball is a great way to do so.
If the Badgers want to transform from a good team to a great one, they’ll need to find that transformational quarterback as soon as possible. It could also be that the coaching staff needs to find ways to transform the Badgers offense in small ways to take advantage of the quarterback’s strengths.
Hopefully there’s a positive answer that emerges following spring ball.
Hornibrook leaves Badgers, enters name in transfer portal
The Wisconsin Badgers will have a new starting quarterback in 2019, as senior quarterback Alex Hornibrook announced his departure from the program.
“Alex informed us of his decision to leave the team earlier today,” head coach Paul Chryst said in a statement. “He contributed to a lot of our recent success and we want to thank him for all he did for our program. We wish him the best of luck.”
Not only is Hornibrook not playing for the Badgers next season, he has also entered his name in to the transfer portal and will look to play elsewhere next year.
Hornibrook went 26-6 in three seasons as a starting quarterback for the Badgers, including a 20-4 record in Big Ten games. His .813 winning percentage is the best of any quarterback in program history.
He ranks in a tie for third all-time at Wisconsin in touchdown passes (47), fourth in completion percentage (60.5%) and fifth in passing yards (5,438).
That would normally suggest this loss is a big blow. But, there have always been serious questions as to just how much he was contributing to the cause of that 22-6 record.
Additionally, he benefited from longevity quite a bit. Hornibrook started from his redshirt freshman season played in the majority of three seasons, which hasn’t been the normal rate for quarterbacks in college football or at Wisconsin specifically.
There are also the mounds of interceptions to consider as well, as Hornibrook threw 33 interceptions to just 47 touchdowns in his first three years. He also contributed 11 interceptions towards last season’s 14 total as team. That ranked 102nd in the country.
The Badgers will start their search for a new starting quarterback on March 26.
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