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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Thursday, September 28, 2023

Mertz showing promise despite Badgers’ inconsistencies

Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz has begun the season showing true promise and improvement following a lackluster 2021 campaign. It is now time for the rest of the Badgers to follow his lead.

While the Wisconsin Badgers lost 17-14 to Washington State, Graham Mertz stepped up and proved himself as their starting quarterback — making many impressive throws despite strong defensive coverage. 

When Mertz stepped on the field at Camp Randall in 2019, he was a four-star recruit by 247 Sports, ESPN and Rivals, and one of the most highly regarded quarterback prospects to come to UW since Russell Wilson. However, when he took up his position in 2020 and 2021, his performance disappointed many fans.

Despite his previous struggles, Mertz has started this season as a strong player and leader on the team. In the Badgers’ first game against Illinois State, he helped lead the team to a shut-out win. Mertz completed 87% of his pass attempts, throwing for 219 yards with one touchdown and no turnovers. Compared to Illinois State’s quarterback, Zach Annexstad, who managed 16 of 24 completed passes, 186 yards and threw two interceptions. 

Heading into Week 2 against Washington State, Wisconsin was favored by 17 points, looking for an easy win against a Pac-12 team. To everyone’s surprise, Mertz was not the reason the Badgers lost this game. The Wisconsin quarterback had one of the best games of his career. 

The Badgers were down 0-7 in the second quarter until Mertz drove 65 yards to the endzone, throwing a phenomenal pass to connect with tight end Clay Cundiff. The 17-yard touchdown throw was one of Mertz’s best throws this season.

The four-star recruit settled down in the pocket, making thoughtful decisions that enabled him to push the ball downfield more. Mertz attacked the Cougar defense with deep throws that forced the defense to space out covering the entire field. 

Mertz completed 18 of 31 pass attempts, including two touchdown passes and one interception totaling 227 yards. The Badgers put up 401 total yards, almost double that of Washington State, and tallied 22 first downs, compared to the Cougars’ 10. On top of that, the Badgers had possession for about 38 minutes, while the Cougars only controlled the football for 22 minutes. Wisconsin led in passing yards, receiving yards and rushing yards.

The lack of a running game and poor defense held back a great Mertz performance. While Mertz held the team back the last two years, he has now started to look better — like a top-level Big Ten quarterback.

If the defense and running game can’t get back to their normal Wisconsin levels, they could be missing out on a big chance to make some noise in the Big Ten and win the West for the first time since 2019.

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