Since 2010, Wisconsin’s 98 wins are 18 more than Michigan, 21 ahead of Penn State and second only to Ohio State among Big Ten programs.
Its three Big Ten championships in that timeframe tie Michigan State and the Buckeyes for the most in the decade.
The Badgers have had all that success despite habitually having one of the worst passing offenses in the country.
While hardly reinventing the wheel under center in Wisconsin’s historically run-dominant offense, junior quarterback Jack Coan has provided upticks in efficiency and decision-making that have helped the Badgers rebound from their worst season since 2012.
“We’re seeing the best we’ve faced so far in terms of receivers, offensive line and even quarterback,” Ohio State junior linebacker Pete Werner said. “[Wisconsin’s] quarterback’s been doing really well this year.”
Wisconsin’s 13-1 campaign in 2017 was its best in program history, losing only to the Buckeyes by a single score in the Big Ten Championship Game and setting a new school record with four consecutive double-digit win seasons.
With a No. 4 preseason ranking and quarterback Alex Hornibrook and star running back Jonathan Taylor returning the following year, it was all the more shocking that the Badgers dropped from the Associated Press Top 25 Poll before the end of October. Wisconsin went 8-5 –– the last time it won less games was 2008.
While Coan saw time at quarterback in 2018, the offense was manned by Hornibrook for the majority of the season, and when he played, his numbers were not good.
He passed for a 59.5 percent completion rate, with 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and the Badgers’ 157.7 passing yards per game were No. 118 out of 129 teams in the country. The Wisconsin offense completed an average of 13.8 passes per game.
Even with the No. 22 passing defense in the country, opponents were out-gaining Wisconsin by more than 30 yards through the air in 2018.
While particularly poor this past season, pass-game mediocrity is nothing new for the Badgers.
Former quarterback Joel Stave managed a 1-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio in 2015, throwing 11 of each, and the year prior, the offense passed for nearly 10 less yards per game than it did in 2018.
Though it still ranks No. 89 in the nation, the 208 yards per game Coan and the Badgers are passing for this season is a welcome step up, and they haven’t had to adjust their typical play selection.
Wisconsin has run the ball less than 40 times per game just once since 1996, and this year is no different, with 45.6 attempts on average. The Badgers’ 25.4 average passing attempts are just two more than they’ve thrown the past three seasons –– the difference is the rate at which Coan is completing them.
Connecting on 76 percent of his passes this year, Coan has the No. 2 completion percentage in the country, and the best in the Big Ten, which allows the offense to complete six more passes per game than in 2018 despite not passing the ball much more.
“He gets better every week, too. He’s a very talented quarterback, and he’s a person we’re going to definitely have to deal with,” co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said.
Coan has a 4.5-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio this year. From 2013-18, Wisconsin quarterbacks averaged a 1.3-to-1 ratio, and Coan is on pace to man a Badgers team that throws for less than 10 picks for the first time since 2012.
With Taylor sitting at No. 3 in the country with 957 rushing yards and leading the nation with 19 total touchdowns, Coan receives the benefit of defenses stacking against the run to set up what Werner called the best play-action attack the Buckeyes have seen.
“Obviously Taylor is the guy that gets him going, but Coan has done an excellent job of managing that offense,” head coach Ryan Day said. “He’s a good player. I think as the team goes, it’s between Taylor and Coan. They’re the guys that get these guys going.”
Coan may be the best Wisconsin quarterback in recent memory, but Ohio State’s pass defense may be its best in decades –– if the season ended today, the 136.6 yards per game the Buckeyes are allowing through the air would be their fewest since 1977.