(Photo: Getty Images)
Jeff Potrykus, Milwaukee Journal SentinelPublished 1:01 p.m. CT Nov. 14, 2018 | Updated 10:56 p.m. CT Nov. 14, 2018
MADISON – Getting an accurate read on Jack Coan’s emotional state is near impossible.
Those who know Wisconsin’s backup quarterback say he is a tenacious competitor who has always masked his emotions.
Steady. Focused. Imperturbable.
Coan’s confidence has been a topic of discussion this week with UW (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten) set to play host Purdue (5-5, 4-3) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. He is preparing to make his third start with Alex Hornibrook still recovering from a concussion.
How will Coan respond after completing only 9 of 20 passes for 60 yards, with two interceptions, in UW’s 22-10 loss at Penn State?
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“I don’t worry about his confidence,” UW coach Paul Chryst said. “Are there things he can do better? Absolutely. He knows it.
“But he has done enough throughout all this to have confidence. There is a competitiveness about him that I love. He wants to get better.”
Coan’s confidence was honed while competing in a variety of sports at Sayville (New York) High School, as well as while training to be certified as an ocean lifeguard. Playing football or lacrosse might be demanding, but wading into the Atlantic Ocean to help save a swimmer in distress is a touch more treacherous.
According to Coan, he was indeed part of a team responsible for saving a life before he came to UW.
“It was pretty cool,” he said in his typically understated tone. “The team went out. You go out together and bring people in.
“It was tough training. You had to do a lot of stuff. The toughest part was the cold water, training in that. It was like an ice bath.”
Coan finds himself in warmer water this week.
In 2½ games this season, he has completed 34 of 58 passes for 282 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He is averaging 4.9 yards per attempt and 8.3 yards per completion.
His two starts came on the road, against Northwestern and Penn State. UW lost both games.
“I think Jack has done a really good job keeping his composure,” center Tyler Biadasz said. “We’re all 0-2. It’s not just him.”
Although UW tried to rely on its rushing attack to take pressure off Coan in both games, a breakdown of his passing numbers is interesting because it shows he passed as much on first down as on any other:
First down: Coan completed 11 of 17 passes (64.7 percent) for 97 yards, with three sacks and one lost fumble.
Second down: Coan completed 8 of 13 passes (61.5 percent) for 68 yards.
Third down: Coan completed 8 of 15 passes (53.3 percent) for 46 yards, with three sacks, one interception and one touchdown.
He was sacked five times in the loss at Penn State. Three came on third down but two came on first down.
Chryst acknowledged that seeing pressure on early downs can affect a play-caller.
“Early, we’re running play-action because we’re in the heavier sets and the tight end can’t seal the edge,” he said, “and all of a sudden there’s some pressure on the quarterback.
“So I think it does affect you some, but you also got enough different things you can go to. In the end, for an offense to get rhythm you have to get first downs and we didn’t do that.”
Perhaps the most telling number in the two starts involves third-down plays.
Coan attempted 15 passes on third down, minus one goal-to-go, and UW converted just three times. The average yardage needed for a first down was 7.5
“We weren’t great on third down so it’s hard to get into a rhythm,” Chryst said of the loss to Penn State.
Coan understands he has to be better this week than he was at Penn State. The protection must also improve against a Purdue defense that is 13th in the Big Ten in passing yards allowed (281.8) but does average 2.2 sacks per game.
“He got his opportunities on the road in the Big Ten,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said when asked about Coan. “None of that is easy. But he’ll be better.”
Like Chryst, Rudolph was asked if he worries about Coan’s confidence level coming off the loss at Penn State.
“I’m not,” he said. “I think it always affects you a little bit and then you make a choice. He’ll make the right choice. He already has. You can tell the way he is approaching this week.”