Wisconsin Football: Badgers are sticking with Graham, for better or Mertz

Sep 25, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) passes during the second half against the Wisconsin Badgers at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) passes during the second half against the Wisconsin Badgers at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports /

I’ve heard the Wisconsin football fan-bases cries for a change at quarterback, and while its understandable – it’s simply not happening, at least anytime soon.

Identifying the Badgers deficiencies on offense isn’t a difficult task at the moment, because they’re plentiful. You could point to the blocking upfront, which has been uncharacteristically rough in the run game. However, the most glaring deficiency has come from the quarterback play they’ve gotten out of Graham Mertz.

Just 10 starts into his young career at Wisconsin, there is more than enough reason to be worried. He’s now thrown more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (10) as the starter.

This season alone has gotten off to a particularly discouraging start, Mertz has thrown 6 interceptions and just 1 touchdown through the Badgers’ first three games. Should you average that out, it comes to an interception being thrown every 15.8 passes, which simply isn’t good enough in a program that has put a premium on ball security.

Against Notre Dame, Mertz had arguably his biggest clunker of them all, turning the ball over 5 times. Mertz had one fumble and four interceptions – two of which were returned for touchdowns.

His struggles have been well-documented, but we’ll highlight them anyway

  • Lack of disciplined footwork (happy feet).
  • The tendency of keeping an eye on the pass rush – forcing him back in the pocket and making throws off his back foot.
  • Struggles to deliver throws when he doesn’t have time to set his feet.
  • Continues to lock onto receivers and be a one-read quarterback.
  • Inconsistent ball placement.
  • Failing to step into throws, particularly while under pressure.
  • Off-platform throws are something he’s clearly uncomfortable with.
  • Accuracy in general.
  • Hasn’t worked through his progressions when he does have time

It’s not fair to put everything on one player, but Graham Mertz’s inability to keep defenses honest in the passing game is what has led to teams loading up the box to stop the run. Teams are often playing one high safety, daring the Badgers to beat them through the air. When that happens you’re going to make it increasingly difficult to remain efficient in the run game.

When the Badgers struggle to run the ball, they constantly find themselves in third and long situations that they’ve been unable to convert in. Until Mertz is able to regain some confidence and step into his throws to deliver an accurate ball, it’s likely we’re going to see more of the same from this offense.

Yes, it’s going to be on coach Paul Chryst to find ways to put his players in position to be successful – but they’ve still got to go out and execute. Perhaps Mertz would be more successful playing out of the shotgun, which would allow him to more quickly set his feet and deliver the football.

Other options on the Wisconsin football roster

This is something fans might not want to hear, and yes I understand the argument of “how could it get any worse”, but Graham Mertz is the teams best option at the moment and isn’t going to lose his job any time soon. If Paul Chryst thought the team had a better chance to winning with another quarterback they would have already seen the field.

Behind him is junior Chase Wolf, who the team may be able to incorporate in the offense with some packages due to his running ability. However, as a passer in his limited action he’s proven to be equally reckless with the football – evidenced by the 3 interceptions in only 12 pass attempts. His arm strength isn’t anything to write home about either and doesn’t possess a ceiling worth making a change.

Senior Danny Vanden Boom is a nice depth piece but isn’t someone you’d play in favor of Mertz, and true freshman Deacon Hill isn’t yet traveling with the team and will need more time before he’s ready to see the field.

Which ultimately leaves the team needing to just ride the wave with Graham Mertz. Despite what we’ve seen from Mertz this season he has the highest ceiling of anyone currently in the quarterback room. Whether or not the badgers pursue a transfer in the off-season to add competition to the room has yet to be seen.

For now, the only option for the Wisconsin football team is to continue working through these struggles and get better in the areas they can control. Graham is going to be the quarterback for the Wisconsin football team this season for better or Mertz.