Jack Coan can feel the world slow down around him.
The Sayville native, who is in his first season as Wisconsin’s starting quarterback, has gotten off to a good start heading into Saturday’s Big Ten opener against Michigan. He has thrown for 564 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions and had his best career game two Saturdays ago against Central Michigan.
And with each snap the junior takes, each read he makes and each pass he throws, Coan feels that much more comfortable in the Badgers’ offense.
“I feel like I know it a lot better, and I can recognize defenses a lot better,” Coan said Monday. “And once you can do that, the game really slows down.”
It’s a stark contrast from 2017, when Coan first arrived on campus in Madison following a decorated career at Sayville High School. Coan set Long Island single-season and career records for both passing yards and passing touchdowns, was a unanimous Hansen Award winner in 2016 and was a three-time All-Long Island first-team selection. But he operated in a wide-open spread offense with the Golden Flashes, which led to a bit of a transition once he started diving into Wisconsin’s pro-style playbook.
“When you first get here, it’s like a totally different language and your head is kind of spinning all the time,” Coan said. “But once you really start to get it down, things start to click and you see patterns in the offense, where you can sort of categorize plays together and stuff like that. So once you really get to know it, it’s a lot of fun to play in.”
Coan also approached things with a starter’s mentality early on in his career, even though he began as a backup to Alex Hornibrook. When Hornibrook went down with a concussion midway through last season, Coan stepped in and played in five games, with four starts, including the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
“Ever since I’ve gotten here, I’ve tried to always view myself as a starter and put myself in the starter’s shoes, so that when I did become the starter one day, it’d be an easier transition,” Coan said.
Now that he’s the full-time starter, Coan knows it’s on him to keep the Badgers' offense humming. Yes, No. 13 Wisconsin (2-0) has Heisman candidate Jonathan Taylor lining up at running back behind Coan, but it’s Coan’s responsibility to make sure the offense stays balanced.
“I’d say that’s just trying to keep the team in good situations,” Coan said. “When we get a play call on first down, if it’s not there, check the ball down or just don’t take a negative play. Just things along those lines.”
He’s done that so far, completing 76.3 percent of his passes — seventh in the nation — without throwing an interception. Coan said he and the other quarterbacks on the roster have watched video of two former Badgers passers — Russell Wilson and Scott Tolzien — to help bring balance to the Badgers' offense.
“We have a lot of old cut-ups of the same plays we’ve been running for a while now,” Coan said. “So I’ve definitely watched a few of their games, a few of their cut-ups, and I’m trying to be like those guys.”
Head coach Paul Chryst said during his weekly news conference Monday that he thinks Coan has done a good job distributing the ball and making smart plays.
“I don’t get a sense that he’s trying to force [the ball],” Chryst said. “Sometimes you see that, when they’re forcing things, and I think he’s handling it pretty well, actually.”
Chryst wants Coan to keep learning on the job, even if the opponents from here on out are tougher — just as No. 11 Michigan (2-0) will be on Saturday. The Wolverines are 2-0 and coming off a bye week (as is Wisconsin) though they may still be smarting from a near-loss in overtime to Army two weeks ago.
“I think Jack has done a nice job of working, of taking things in, of trying to learn from every bit of it,” Chryst said. “And when you ask what’s the next step, the next step is to continue to improve, right? It’s to continue to trust yourself on things that you know — ‘All right, this is it, I’m seeing it right. Trust it.’ In every game, there will be adversity, and how do I handle that? Maybe it’s a little different than when it came before. But each game opportunity is a challenge. That’s the fun part about it.”
Despite the added challenge — and the potential conference implications down the line — Coan said Saturday will be just like any other game.
“It’s definitely important for us to have a strong showing, but that’s no different from every week," Coan said. "Every week, we’re going to go out and play as good as we possibly can, so the goal doesn’t really change for us.”