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Quarterback Jack Coan faces former team when Notre Dame plays Wisconsin at Soldier Field

Coan will see lots of familiar faces when he lines up against his old school.

Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan said the game against Wisconsin will be “weird.”
Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan said the game against Wisconsin will be “weird.”
Michael Conroy/AP

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Jack Coan has a certain stoicism that should serve him well Saturday at Soldier Field against No. 18 Wisconsin.

While matching up against former coaches and teammates could knock your typical graduate transfer for an emotional loop, Notre Dame’s first starting quarterback procured via transfer is different.

Any added incentive this week in the latest installment of the Shamrock Series?

“No, definitely not,” Coan said after improving to 3-0 as quarterback of the No. 12 Irish. “A lot of people ask me if I’m taking this game personally and things like that. Not really.”

Coan’s stone face never budged.

“It’s definitely going to be weird just because it’s going to be a lot of my friends I’m playing against, a lot of guys I still talk to today,” Coan said. “But at the end of the day, it’s just another football game. I like to think I don’t get too excited or more excited for one game than the next.”

Whether Coan is standing tall in the pocket until the last instant or shaking off a pick-six just before halftime or letting an assistant trainer reset a dislocated right middle finger in the midst of a game-winning touchdown drive, the Sayville, New York, product is unflappable.

Coan, who went 12-6 as the Badgers’ starter in 2018-19, lost his job to freshman Graham Mertz in the wake of season-ending foot surgery one year ago. Rather than complain and risk dividing the team, Coan simply took his degree in real estate and urban land economics and hit the transfer portal at semester’s end.

“I remember the day [Coan’s injury] happened at practice, the emotions,” Mertz told reporters this week. “It definitely wasn’t a good situation that day. I’m glad he made it through and he’s healthy now.”

There was no nationwide tour of rerecruitment. Rather, the 6-3 proven commodity quickly hooked on with the same Irish outfit that ignored him out of high school, even

as he was decommitting from Notre Dame’s lacrosse program.

It was made clear to him, coach Brian Kelly said recently, that space would be made within the playbook for the dynamic running skills of freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner.

Rather than keep Buchner at arm’s length, Coan embraced the future star from Southern California and gracefully stepped aside when a flagging Irish running game begged for Buchner’s help against Toledo.

“You wonder [about] and gauge somebody,” Kelly said of Coan. “We’re still dating here, right? We just met. There’s a lot of things, adversity in particular, [where] you want to see how a quarterback is going to handle himself. He handled himself great.”

This was merely a continuation of the way Coan treated Mertz even after it became clear the freshman sensation had stolen his job.

“Jack’s a great guy,” Mertz said this week. “Nothing but good things about that guy. He’s a great player, great teammate, great friend.”

As Wisconsin tries to end a six-game losing streak against Top 25 competition, it will attempt to add to the 13 sacks Coan already has absorbed this season behind a recast offensive line. It’s unclear which side has the edge when considering the familiarity factor.

Ranked 34th nationally at 8.4 yards per pass attempt, Coan noted that four years of practicing against the Badgers’ defense gave him “a general sense of what they like to do” and suggested he would “try to help out as much as I can” with Saturday’s game plan.

“He’s always played with a lot of confidence,” Badgers defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard told reporters. “Seeing him get through progressions and be aggressive throwing the ball down the field, he’s done a great job in that offense to this point.”

Leonhard, who spent 10 seasons in the NFL as a safety, recalled the many conversations he had with Coan during his time in Madison.

“He was a guy who could see it on tape,” Leonhard said. “He could talk it and then apply it on the field, and that’s what I see. I’m excited for him. He’s just got to have one bad game this year.”