For all intents and purposes, quarterback Tyler Donovan is right where he thought he would be at this point in his Wisconsin football career. Coming out of Arrowhead High School, he expected to redshirt. He did and played well enough on the scout team to earn scout offensive player of the year honors. After a so-so spring season he matured through fall camp, solidifying himself as the Badgers' No. 2 signal caller behind sophomore John Stocco.
"I knew that through my redshirt freshman year that that's when I should start making a push and showing the coaches what I can do and making a role on the team," Donovan said.
Donovan's role, plain and simple, is to be ready. Chances are at some point this season the Badgers will need to turn to their redshirt freshman backup quarterback in the heat of a game. With that in mind, Donovan's playing time in the Badgers' season-opener two weeks ago was invaluable. He entered the game with the rest of the second offense early in the fourth quarter with Wisconsin comfortably ahead. The effort, however, was much more than going through the motions of running out a game clock.
"You can't simulate a game experience and for him to get a chance to play 15 plays was awesome," quarterbacks coach Jeff Horton said.
"The thing with that second offense," Horton added, "we moved the ball down the field. We took up [seven] minutes of the clock and that was a key…[head coach Barry Alvarez] always stresses, they don't want to go out there and flop around."
Donovan completed his first career pass attempt, a six-yard out to Marcus Randle El, and finished 1-for-2 passing.
"He seemed pretty calm," Horton said. "He hit that first pass, which is always big."
Donovan's specialty, however, is what he can do with his feet. He ran four times for 64 yards against Central Florida, including a 44-yard sprint down the west sideline at Camp Randall. Donovan was nearly thrown for a loss on the play, but spun backwards, escaped from trouble and darted around left end.
"Somebody asked if I taught him that," Horton said. "If I do that I'd blow out my ACL. That's something on his own."
If all else fails, Donovan can always turn to his exceptional athleticism when he needs to make a play. The finer points of playing quarterback, however, have taken longer to nail down. Donovan improved from his redshirt year, but still had to fight to fend off true freshmen Bryan Savage and Sean Lewis and retain the No. 2 job in fall camp.
"Obviously through the spring Coach Alvarez wasn't really comfortable with the No. 2 quarterback," Donovan said. "I basically came to myself and I said, ‘you know what, I know I can do it. I'd better step up to this task and I'm going to win this job.' So far, so good.
"But in no way, or no terms necessary am I just going to settle down now. I'm going to keep pushing. I'm going to keep getting better. I have a long ways to go."
"We all saw he's a live wire in there but he can make some things happen," Horton said. "I still need to slow that game down for him, though. Things are still happening a little fast. With each rep hopefully he gets a little better with those things too. That was the first time he had played. But I was excited about the way he played."
As Stocco's backup, Donovan receives regular practice reps with the second offense and, to a lesser extent, the first offense. Even when he is not in the thick of things, however, he is still concentrating on honing his skills.
"I'm still learning so I'm basically taking mental reps when ‘Stoc' is in there," Donovan said. "Of course, I'm trying to push Stoc too as much as I can. That's what a two quarterback should do with the one guy. Number one quarterback should never feel comfortable with his spot. Basically, what I'm doing is just trying to get better. Just put myself in situations where I… read what the coverage is doing and where I would go with the ball."
"I like where I'm at right now and I'm going to try to help the team in any what way I can," he said.
Donovan becoming more comfortable at quarterback
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