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Wisconsin football: Paul Chryst pregame press conference

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The coach discussed Graham Mertz’s preparation, getting ready for the Illini and how the team is staying safe. Also: special teams talk!

Iowa v Wisconsin Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

On Wednesday morning, Wisconsin Badgers head coach Paul Chryst was made available to us, the unwashed media, via Zoom. The coach discussed some of the key topics of discussion heading into Friday’s season opener against Illinois, as well as the team and coaching staff’s preparation for the game both on and off the field.

Here are a few highlights from his media availability:

Chryst began by addressing one of the biggest storylines for Wisconsin fans- the play of new starting quarterback Graham Mertz, and how the redshirt freshman is preparing for his first start as the signal caller for the Badgers:

“He’s handling it all well. He’s certainly doing his part, and everyone around him is as well. He’s doing well.”

On what advice to give to Mertz, the sixth year head coach stressed the importance of not getting caught up in the moment:

“I think you’ve got to go out and go play. You have to trust yourself, the plan, and those around you. It could be a guy making first start, or his twentieth or his thirtieth start, you’re not going to play perfect football. It’s a goal, and you can strive for it, but the big thing is you go out and trust yourself and play confident, and do your part for the team. And his part is to run the offense, and he doesn’t have to do it alone. But he’s a part of every play, and I feel good about him doing that.

Concerning special teams, coach Chryst addressed how players have stepped up to fill the roles of departing kickoff specialist Zack Hintze as well as dynamic kick returner Aron Cruickshank:

“We had a pretty good special teams unit in what was kind of a modified scrimmage, but when you try to ramp up the pressure, and make them feel it a little bit, we liked the way they responded. On kickoff returns, we’re settling in, we’ve still got a couple guys, but honestly, I think you’ve just got to see how it plays out.

Chryst said he and his team weren’t particularly concerned with preparing for an Illinois roster that looks to have a lot of new faces following a large number of offseason transfers:

“I think certainly we know the opponent. We’ve had tougher games to prepare for, season openers, when you don’t know anything about the staff and whatnot. I think in college football it’s pretty common, there’s going to be enough changes in faces, where you don’t know who they are, and I think that’s part of it for early in the season. Even what you see in game 1, you game 2 is going to be different. I wouldn’t say it’s difficult- you know you won’t have a 100% report on them. I feel like we as a staff and our kids feel prepared for this one, and I think that helps when it’s a team you play every year.”

On the topic of the coronavirus, the Wisconsin native was able to report that no Badgers will be missing the season opener at present due to a positive case:

“I’m proud of the way the kids have handled it, but it’s a day to day thing. But knock on wood, you just hope it stays that way.”

Coach Chryst closed by discussing the league’s testing protocol, saying he was proud of how the team and the rest of the staff have made the adjustments needed to stay safe:

“We’re one of many teams, but for us and our players, even if it took a little bit - certainly on our first day of testing - it’s a great group and they’ve done a nice job. It’s part of your everyday, and it’s been pretty smooth, procedurally. I’m confident everyone is doing their part. It’s one more thing you do, but it’s become part of your day. Even things you try to do around the facility, you know, guys have become used to it. Wearing masks when it’s appropriate and dealing with everything, it’s been good.”

We will have more press conference coverage following Chryst’s availability after the game on Friday night.