Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Wisconsin Badgers have a quarterback problem. I know this may sound repetitive (as in “every year that didn’t involve Russell Wilson”) but once again, the UW expectations were high (preseason #12) and they likely will falter (or succeed) based on their quarterback’s performance.
Post Barry Alvarez QB History Is Gross
Barry Alvarez took the Wisconsin football program to new heights but not to the upper echelon. Try not to gag here, but when you’re trying to measure Wisconsin quarterbacks in this era (post Barry) up against the best in the country, you aren’t winning many big games with the likes of John Stocco (2003-’06), Tyler Donovoan (04-07), Curt Phillips (‘08-’12 – admittedly, I had high expectations for Phillips), Joel Stave (‘12-’15), Alex Hornibrook (‘15-’17), Jack Coan (‘17-20 … more on him in a second) and others (Dustin Sherer, Allan Evridge, Tanner McEvoy…Danny O’Brien??) Nice guys. Good guys. Fine high school players. Most were “solid”. But Wisconsin isn’t going to break through from the tier of “REAL GOOD” programs to “GREAT” programs as long as they can’t recruit and DEVELOP a top tier quarterback.
If you’re OK with winning the Big Ten’s West Division and that’s it, then I’m sure this trend is just fine with you. But I’m pretty sure Badgers fans around the state of Wisconsin are getting sick of ALMOST getting there, only to come up short.
BUT THEN, October 20th, 2020 happened….he came. He threw FIVE touchdowns in his debut. Graham FREAKING Mertz. Look out Ohio State because THE HAS SAVIOR ARRIVED…or so you thought. That night, Mertz set Badgers fans to the beer fridge over and over to celebrate one of the great performances in school history (20/21 248 yards, 5TDs). Beers were chugged. Visions of Big Ten CHAMPIONSHIPS were dancing through Wisconsinites heads!!
The Disappearing Act
Here’s the problem: That Graham Mertz hasn’t shown up since. Since that day, Mertz has been BAD. In the 7 games since his starting debut, he’s 120-209 (57%). He’s thrown for 1,175 yards. (167 ypg) and just 4 touchdowns vs 7 interceptions. PUKE. There is no Melvin Gordan, Montee Ball, Jonathan Taylor or any other GREAT running back to rely on this year. (For some reason, last year’s leading rusher, Jalen Berger, didn’t even play in the opener).
We don’t know how good the defense is this year but it doesn’t matter. Look at last year’s College Football Playoff quarterbacks: Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Mac Jones & Ian Book. 3 were 1st round picks last April and the other went in the 4th round. The Badgers usually have good offensive lines, defenses, running backs, tight ends and receivers just like the big boys. Know what they lack? A 1st round signal caller.
A Tale of Two Offseasons
In the offseason, Mertz went to practice & watched film (I’m certain). But he also was one of the 1st to go public when the Name/Image/Likeness rules changed for college athletes.
I’m not saying this has caused him to regress or play poorly. What I am saying is that when your team is depending on you and you’re the focal point of an offense that you’re struggling to succeed with, should you be spending ANY of your time trying to make money selling shirts? (And for the record, I’m 100% on board with NIL) Meanwhile, in the same offseason, Jack Coan transferred to Notre Dame. Brian Kelly named him the starter. Did you see his debut over the weekend? If you’re a Badgers fan, I hope not. In his 1st start for The Irish, Coan went 26/35 for 366 yards & 4 TD’s in a road win at Florida State. Notre Dame has Toledo this week and then Purdue. Guess who they play the week after on 9/25? Wisconsin. You better believe Coan will be amped for that one.
2021 Week #1
The 2021 season was supposed to start things anew for Mertz. Unfortunately, it didn’t. He didn’t play well. He hasn’t looked like he’s gotten better since last year. And please don’t tell me about COVID-19 messing things up in 2020. Ohio State’s Justin Fields looked pretty damn good and he played in the same conference. Iowa’s Spencer Petrus got better EVERY GAME. Fans are rightfully upset and wondering if Paul Chryst made the wrong choice basically giving the starting job to Mertz with no shot of Coan getting it back.
Mertz since the 5 td game: https://t.co/GKplFq8Rsa— Mike Wickett 🇺🇲🎙🏈🏀👨👧👧👩👦🤘🚀 (@mikewickett) September 4, 2021
Wisconsin didn’t lose to Penn State because they couldn’t run the ball or because the offensive line played poorly or because the defense was trash. None of those happened. They lost to Penn State because the quarterback was 22-37 for 185 yards & 2 INT’s + roughly 24 fumbles (by my unofficial count).
You’ve Been Here Before
The ‘21 opener against Penn State was a problem for Mertz. He still locks on to a wide receiver the way I look at a cold Miller Lite. Bad snaps. Fumbles. Interceptions. Credit to Mertz for answering EVERY question following that performance at Camp Randall. He KNOWS he played bad. And before you say it, I know – “The other team plays too” and “Penn State plays good defense”…blah blah blah. The Badgers have yet ANOTHER quarterback question this year. It was ugly but not unfamiliar. If this was year #1 for Mertz in the system or as a starter, I wouldn’t write this article. But it’s year #3 and it’s becoming a trend for him. If it doesn’t change, the preseason expectations of a Big Ten Title game birth and a magical season for Wisconsin will be gone before October.
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