One of the biggest questions for Wisconsin in 2019 as the Badgers look to climb back to the top of the Big Ten West is who will be the starting quarterback. With the new season now two weeks away in Madison, head coach Paul Chryst isn’t ready to spill the beans on that topic. However, although he may have a better feel for the direction he intends to go, Chryst may not feel the urge to share the news publicly.
According to Wisconsin beat reporter Jim Polzin of the Wisconsin State Journal, Chryst may make his call following a closed scrimmage scheduled for Monday.
The top two leading candidates for the job are Jack Coan and freshman Graham Mertz. Coan has been expected to be the likely replacement for Alex Hornibrook in Madison this season after Hornibrook left Wisconsin and transferred to Florida State, but the arrival of one of the top quarterback recruits has kept the competition ongoing until a decision needs to be made. Coan played in five games for Wisconsin last season, in which he completed 60.2 percent of his pass attempts for 515 yards and five touchdowns with three interceptions.
Mertz likely is the long-term solution for Wisconsin, but the question of how ready he is for the college game is the concern. This is especially the case given Wisconsin has a difficult Big Ten schedule on tap that begins with a game against the Michigan Wolverines in September.
It’s also entirely possible Chryst uses the early non-conference games to give both options a chance to play and use the bye week in Week 3 as the deadline to make a final decision. Such a move is not too uncommon even if it is the less ideal path to reaching a final decision. But the age of freshmen being unable to step in and have an impact on the field is a thing of the past. If Mertz can step in and make some noise, he could end up being the guy for the Badgers as early as this season. For now, Coan is probably still the leader in the clubhouse, even if that means there is a short leash.
Wisconsin opens the 2019 season on the road on Friday, Aug. 30 with a game at USF in Tampa. Wisconsin’s home opener will be played the following weekend on Sept. 7 against Central Michigan.
Forget about any questions about whether or not health issues will interfere with Alex Hornibrook at Wisconsin. Hornibrook is reportedly considering a transfer and has entered his name into the NCAA transfer portal.
“Alex informed us of his decision to leave the team earlier today,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said in a released 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.”
Hornibrook released a statement of his own through his Instagram account.
Hornibrook will be a graduate transfer, which will make him eligible to play right away for any other FBS program this fall. He has one final year of eligibility at his disposal. In 35 career games played at Wisconsin, Hornibrook has passed for 5,438 yards and 47 touchdowns with 33 interceptions. Concussion concerns late last season took him out of action for a few games down the stretch of the regular season, although he did return for the regular season finale against Minnesota. He did not play for the Badgers in the Pinstripe Bowl against Miami, a year after thriving against the Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl.
Hornibrook did return to participate in offseason winter workouts with the program last month, which was an encouraging sign. But now he will likely be on the move. Entering a name in the transfer portal does not require a player to leave his current school, so a return to Wisconsin is still entirely possible. This just allows Hornibrook to evaluate and be in contact with other programs as he decides what to do next.
If Hornibrook does leave Madison, the Badgers may simply put incoming four-star freshman Graham Mertz into a starting role. Mertz enrolled early in Madison, which makes him eligible to participate in spring practices for the Badgers. If Mertz doesn’t impress enough to get the starting job in the fall and needs a little more time to be prepared for the job, then Wisconsin still has Jack Coan to rely on. Coan served as Wisconsin’s backup quarterback last season and he started in place of the injured Hornibrook when needed.
Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor provided the first highlight of the day and had another strong day on the ground, but Miles Sanders provided similar production on the ground as No. 20 Penn State (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) sent the Badgers home with a 22-10 loss. The loss makes any chance of winning the Big Ten West even more of a challenge for Wisconsin with just two games to play.
Sanders carried the football 22 times for 161 yards and a touchdown to pace the Penn State offense. Trace McSorley left the game late in the first half after medical trainers had to look at his right knee on the field, but the Penn State senior captain returned in the second half to polish off a hard-fought win at home.
Taylor ripped off a 71-yard touchdown run on the third snap of the game for the Wisconsin offense, and Taylor continued to grind out yardage on the ground and make a few more sizable runs against the Nittany Lions. But Penn State’s defense, led by Shareef Miller, was up to the task and handled backup quarterback Jack Coan by forcing Wisconsin into a position where throwing the ball had to be the way to make a comeback. Coan was intercepted once on the 20 passes he attempted as Wisconsin seemed to think their biggest home run threat would come on the ground in the hands of Taylor.
Coan started the game for Wisconsin in place of Alex Hornibrook, who was questionable all week with a head injury, a problem that has been consistent in recent weeks.
With the loss, Wisconsin fails to make up any ground on Northwestern this week. The Wildcats, who lead the Big Ten West, play at Iowa today and have an opportunity to open up a massive lead in the division with a win in Iowa City. Wisconsin must win their remaining two games and hope Northwestern drops their next three games beginning today.
Wisconsin will look to rebound on the road again next week with a trip to Purdue. Penn State will play their final road game of the year next week at Rutgers. A chance at winning 10 games this season is still in the mix for Penn State. James Franklin’s program must win their remaining two regular season games and their bowl game in order to pull off a third straight 10-win season for the first time in Penn State history since 1980-1982.
Wisconsin is without starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook, and Penn State once again has a concern about the health of its starting quarterback. Trace McSorley was helped off the field with an apparent knee injury late in the first half of a home game against the Badgers with Penn State leading Wisconsin 16-7. Tommy Stevens has come on to fill in for McSorley as Penn State takes a 16-7 lead into the halftime break.
Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor got right to work on the first offensive series of the game for the Badgers by ripping off a 71-yard run on a 3rd & 2 to put Wisconsin on the board with the first score of the game. But it was all Penn State from there as the Nittany Lions scored 16 straight points to take a 16-7 lead.
McSorley completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Thompkins on the ensuing drive after Taylor’s long touchdown run. After Wisconsin fumbled the ball when quarterback Jack Coan seemed to mishandle an exchange, the Nittany Lions took the lead on a 49-yard field goal by Jake Pinegar. Penn State added to their lead in the second quarter with a short Miles Sanders touchdown run with a leap over the pile to cross the goal line, but a missed extra point attempt kept the game a single-digit deficit.
At one point midway through the second quarter, Penn State had 12 first downs to just two for the Badgers. Struggles on third down had slowed Wisconsin’s offense, although that should be credit to the Penn State defense with pressure coming up front from Shareef Miller.
Wisconsin needs to figure something out for the second half as they need a win to remain close enough to Northwestern in the Big Ten West standings to have a shot at winning the division. Being unable to come back in this game would make it incredibly tough for Wisconsin to play in the Big Ten championship game for a third consecutive year. Penn State will be unable to win the Big Ten East but is in position to end the year with 10 wins in a bowl game if they can hold on to this one. Second halves of games at home have not been too kind to Penn State, so this one is still up for grabs.
Wisconsin is still in the running for the Big Ten West Division crown as they prepare for a road trip to Penn State this weekend. With the Badgers in need of a win, it remains unknown if starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook will be available.
Wisconsin’s injury report at the beginning of the week listed Hornibrook as questionable for this weekend’s road game against the Nittany Lions. Hornibrook returned to the starting lineup this past weekend at home against Rutgers after sitting out a game two weeks ago against Northwestern due to not passing the concussion protocol. Hornibrook left Saturday’s win against Rutgers with a head injury concern.
If Hornibrook is unable to play for Wisconsin, the Badgers will once again put the ball in the hands of Jack Coan. Coan, a sophomore, completed 20 of 31 pass attempts for 158 yards and a touchdown in a 31-17 loss to Northwestern, and he filled in for the injured Hornibrook on Saturday against Rutgers by completing five of seven attempts for 64 yards and a touchdown.
With Coan at quarterback, Wisconsin should be expected to stick to their running game with perhaps a little more emphasis on the ground with Jonathan Taylor against a Penn State defense that will be looking to bounce back after giving up 35 points to Michigan in a 42-7 loss in Ann Arbor. Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley has also been playing a little banged up in recent weeks as well, although there has been no indication his status will be adjusted this week against the Badgers.
Wisconsin trails Northwestern by one game in the Big Ten West Division standings and would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Wildcats. In order for Wisconsin to return to the Big Ten Championship Game for a third consecutive season, Wisconsin will have to finish ahead of Northwestern in the division standings. A loss at Penn State would severely hurt Wisconsin’s chances given Northwestern’s remaining schedule (at Iowa, at Minnesota, home vs. Illinois). The Badgers have a road game at Purdue after their road trip to Penn State and then a home game to close out the regular season against rival Minnesota.