Column: Badgers should look for a graduate transfer quarterback to upgrade passing game

After the Badgers' struggles in the passing game last season, it would be a good idea to find a graduate transfer quarterback — potentially someone like Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts. 

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After last year’s Orange Bowl in which he threw four touchdowns and was named MVP, Alex Hornibrook looked poised to have a breakout 2018. The then-sophomore was set to lead an offense returning almost all of its starters and was protected by one of the best offensive lines in college football. This Wisconsin offense was going to be one of the greatest in program history.

But after 7-5 finish with one of the worst passing offenses in the country, one thing is obvious: Neither Hornibrook nor sophomore Jack Coan are good enough to lead UW to a Big Ten title.

Because of this and incoming four-star recruit Graham Mertz being a true freshman who will likely redshirt, Wisconsin should pursue potential graduate transfer quarterbacks this spring like Jalen Hurts. The Badgers could’ve made an attempt to recruit Kelly Bryant — who led Clemson to a college football playoff appearance — but he recently announced his intention to transfer to Missouri.

A graduate transfer would be crucial for the Badgers because, due to NCAA eligibility rules, he would be able to play for Wisconsin right away. Jalen Hurts — the most talked-about potential graduate transfer quarterback — or any other dual-threat quarterback would give Wisconsin a perfect opportunity to finally get their offense out of the 1980s. With an experienced, dual-threat quarterback, Paul Chryst would want to alter his playbook with more spread and option plays.

Jonathan Taylor rushed for almost 2,000 yards this season while being the only rushing threat on almost every play. Incorporating some zone-read and option-style plays with a quarterback like Hurts with a still stellar offensive line would be dangerous to say the least. For example, at least one defensive end or linebacker would be responsible for the quarterback, opening up more rushing lanes for Taylor.

In today’s college game with high-scoring spread offenses, you need a quarterback that can create with his legs either inside or outside the pocket. Hurts does a great job of staying poised.

Because their offense is built on long possessions and ball control, Wisconsin would need a quarterback that doesn’t turn the ball over. With 11 interceptions in nine games, Alex Hornibrook has not been that. Hurts, on the other hand, threw 17 touchdowns and only one pick in 14 games.

Another reason to at least try to go after an elite transfer quarterback is the recent success transfers have had at their respective schools, especially Michigan’s Shea Patterson. After last season, Michigan found itself in a similar situation to Wisconsin at quarterback. They had one of the worst passing offenses in the country and three different quarterbacks that threw just as many interceptions as touchdowns. Instead of being content with an average-at-best quarterback leading their offense, they recruited quarterback Shea Patterson from Ole Miss. Patterson is the biggest reason on offense that Michigan was a game away from making the Playoff. He’s been able to create with his legs while not turning the ball over, allowing Michigan’s offense to put up over 10 more points per game this season.

Patterson isn’t the only elite quarterback to transfer and change a team’s fortunes completely. Cam Newton, Baker Mayfield, Will Grier, Jared Stidham, Joe Burrow and Gardner Minshew were all transfers who led their respective teams into the national championship or playoff conversation.

In fact, Wisconsin are no strangers to successful transfer quarterbacks. Remember Russell Wilson? He was a star at NC State before he won the Big Ten title with Wisconsin in 2011.

While admittedly it’ll be hard to get a quarterback of Hurts’ quality to come to a program that notoriously underutilized the passing game, it could give Hurts the opportunity to prove he can be an NFL quarterback. Wilson put up impressive numbers at a school that doesn’t traditionally have a potent passing offense, which helped him drafted higher and star in the NFL. If Hurts were to transfer to a team with a spread system, he might still be considered by NFL Scouts a great college quarterback, but not a professional. At the same time, Hurts will not be the only transfer quarterback this offseason. The second an elite quarterback — like Patterson or Burrow last year — comes available, the Badgers have to try to recruit him.

But most importantly, Wisconsin needs a transfer quarterback because teams don’t respect Alex Hornibrook. Teams stack the box and let Hornibrook — who has no completions over 45 yards — make a mistake. Hornibrook regressed in every major passing statistic this year.

If there’s no change in offensive scheme or quarterback next year, the Badgers’ offense could be the same as this year: a frustrating and average mess.

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