Graham Mertz had about the best possible debut a college football quarterback could have. He torched Illinois for five touchdowns and only had one incompletion in 21 attempts. He was sitting on top of the world and was hailed as the best Wisconsin Badgers quarterback since Russell Wilson.
This website (mostly, uh, me) was not immune from Mertzmania and it seemed legitimate since players like Jonathan Taylor and Patrick Mahomes were also saying how good Mertz looked. But Mertz quickly ran into problems during his freshman season however, testing positive for COVID-19 and having to sit out a few weeks then suffering an undisclosed shoulder injury.
On Saturday, back at a full Camp Randall Stadium for the first time in 651 days, Mertz had what can generously be described as a clunker. He was 22-of-37 (59.4%) with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. He only threw for 185 yards which comes out to 5.0 yards per attempt and 8.4 yards per completion. Mertz was also sacked twice, losing 18 yards, committed two intentional grounding penalties and had multiple botched handoffs that resulted in one lost fumble.
That’s all really bad.
The Badgers did find some success passing the ball on early downs, but it didn’t lead to much success overall and for the game Mertz had a -7.90 EPA (expected points added; or how a player/team performs relative to expectations), compared to Sean Clifford who had a robust 0.00 EPA (neither quarterback played particularly well tbqh), and had -9.0% WPA (win probability added; which is an attempt to measure a player’s contribution to a win).
Graham Mertz was revered as the savior of Wisconsin football, and after *checks* 8 games, the fan base wants Jack Coan back— Owen Riese (@RieseDraft) September 4, 2021
i promise it’s okay to breathe, take a second, and relax. He’s 19. He’ll be fine
(before someone yells at us like they did at Owen, we know Mertz is actually 20, calm down)
Now, it is important to remember that this is only Week 1 of the college football season and the Badgers played against a very good defense on a ranked team. It should also be noted that Mertz has only started eight games (appeared in 10) in his career. That isn’t even an entire season’s worth of games! He has only attempted 240 career passes. Jack Coan COMPLETED 236 passes in 2019 for the Badgers.
It isn’t a popular stance right now, although now that we’ve all had a chance to get some sleep maybe it’s becoming more popular, but Mertz still needs time. It’s clear he is talented but he is still making some mental mistakes.
Wisconsin fans in September 2020: "Coan is solid, but Wisconsin HAS to play Mertz. If we don't we'll live to regret it"— Scary Alvarez (@barryisthedon) September 4, 2021
Same Wisconsin fans in September 2021: "Mertz might have potential, but Wisconsin made a HUGE mistake not giving the job back to Coan. We'll live to regret it"
Handing the ball off is something Mertz has done thousands of times in his life but he messed that up on Saturday. That’s fixable. Mertz looked like he had happy feet in the pocket on occasion on Saturday. That’s fixable. Going through your progressions and not locking in one receiver? That’s fixable. Floating the ball when maybe you should have put some more zip on it? Fixable.
I have been a Wisconsin fan for my entire life and I have been known to take losses pretty hard. I sometimes forget that, for the players, it is even harder. They hate to lose and are actually the ones out there on the field doing it. So what if Mertz didn’t grow up a Badgers fan like I did. He is pissed about how he played on Saturday, more pissed than I’ll ever be, and he’s going to do what is needed to be done to fix it.
And, if he doesn’t? Well, hopefully we all will have learned a lesson about lionizing players before they have even set foot on campus, let alone played a down of college football. So, Graham Mertz...it’s all up to you. What do you want to be?