April 15, 2024

Graham Mertz surprisingly regressing behind center

Wisconsin Badgers Football

Wisconsin Badgers during an NCAA Duke’s Mayo Bowl college football game against the Wake Forest Damon Deacons Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Charlotte, NC. (Photo by David Stluka/Wisconsin Athletic Communications)

The quarterback position has become a liability for the Badgers this fall and the team been struggling during the process.

Alex Hornibrook was the last Wisconsin signal-caller to receive a ton of criticism because of his knack for throwing interceptions. He didn’t even finish his career with the program and later transferred to Florida State. Now Coach Paul Chryst is having similar problems with Graham Mertz.

The Badgers haven’t had a stud rusher in their backfield since Jonathan Taylor left the building, and it has limited what the quarterbacks can do in the huddle. Mertz had a solid campaign in 2020, but this season he has been nothing more than a game manager. Even that has become a difficult task for the Kansas native, considering all of Wisconsin’s turnovers.

Instead of operating like a seasoned veteran, Mertz is looking more like a wide-eyed freshman. Not to mention Wisconsin has lost three of its’ first four games. Although there has been opportunities for Mertz, he hasn’t been able to capitalize. Great quarterbacks are supposed to make others around them better, but the Badgers have been stuck in neutral on offense with Mertz at the helms.

The former four-star prospect was picked off twice in the loss to Penn State. Mertz threw no touchdowns in the win over Eastern Michigan. He had the worst game of his career against Notre Dame, when he was picked off four times, and Michigan’s defense made Wisconsin’s offense one-dimensional last Saturday.

In return that has put a lot of pressure on Mertz’ shoulders to get the Badgers to the finish line. Backup Chase Wolf played some valuable snaps against the Wolverines and threw a touchdown pass.

It remains to be seen if benching Mertz would be beneficial for Chryst’s offense. The six-foot-three, 227-pounder could use a humbling experience. At this stage in Mertz’ career, his experience, production and leadership should be paying dividends for the Badgers’ offense.

The rest of the Big Ten knows Wisconsin’s identity is the running the ball. So some fans believe Mertz doesn’t deserve all of the criticism he’s been receiving. The offensive line has to block and protect Mertz better on a consistent basis. Wisconsin has allowed 10 sacks so far this season, which is tied for 90th in the FBS.

Mertz also took a bone-jarring hit from a Michigan defender in the third quarter that knocked him out the game, and sent him to the hospital. What ever happened to the Badgers’ offensive line mauling defenders and dominating in the trenches?

Until the Badgers can show that they can effectively do that, defenders will pin their ears back, stack the box to stop the run and force Mertz to beat them with his arm.

It’s not ideal for Wisconsin’s offense to be in third and long. Keeping the unit in those situations have helped the opposition and made the Badgers very predictable. As bad as the month of September was for Wisconsin, playing three top-15 teams, the schedule softens up over the next three weeks.

The clash with Illinois will be an emotional one that could go either way, especially with Bret Bielema on the opposite sideline. Army and Purdue have a combined record of 7-3, so Wisconsin shouldn’t be expecting to just show up and get a victory. The opposition can smell blood in the water with the Badgers’ glaring weaknesses on offense and something has to give.

Great coaching is all about making adjustments. So it’ll be interesting to see what Chryst does with his quarterbacks for the remainder of the season.