Wisconsin football opens its season at Camp Randall on September 3rd where they’ll take on the Illinois State Redbirds. The Badgers are finishing up Fall camp and transitioning into game week, which means it's time to get you prepped for what you should expect to see from each position group this Fall.
Next up, quarterback.
Depth Chart Projection (projected starter in bold)
Graham Mertz, Deacon Hill, Myles Burkett, Marshall Howe (Presumed backup Chase Wolf is out for the season with a knee injury)
2022 Position Preview
Graham Mertz is entering his third season as the signal caller for the Badgers and his first with a new offensive coordinator, calling the plays, in Bobby Engram.
Mertz has struggled to secure the ball, throughout his career, most recently turning the ball over 16 times in 2021 (11 interceptions).
While he has been known to turn the ball over, Mertz has also shown signs of the prowess that garnered him a 4-star rating, coming out of Blue Valley North High School.
Mertz helped close out Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl, to finish out this past season, throwing a 13-yard dart to Chimre Dike on third-and-12. The pass extended a nearly 10-minute long drive by the Wisconsin offense, which secured a 20-13 victory.
Mertz kicked off his tenure at Wisconsin, going 20-21, 248 yards and five touchdowns, easily one of the best passing performances ever turned in by a Badgers quarterback and brought about #MertzMania.
Since then #MertzMania has cooled off a bit, as Mertz has thrown 14 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions in the 19 games since then. However, his confidence has never wavered.
Even when there was the chance that Wisconsin could land transfer Caleb Williams, Mertz insisted he would stay at Wisconsin and fought for the job, “like it’s my team.” Williams ultimately ended up going to USC, which came as a surprise to few, leaving the job in Mertz’s hands.
While Mertz’s confidence seems to be at an all-time high entering 2022, it is worth noting that Mertz will be without his top-three pass catchers from a season ago - Jake Ferguson, Danny Davis, and Kendric Pryor (combined for 110 catches) are all gone and Mertz’s most experienced returning receiver is Dike, who has 31 career receptions (19 in 2021).
Apart from Dike, Mertz will have Skyler Bell, Markus Allen, transfer Keontez Lewis (UCLA) and converted cornerback, Dean Engram at receiver.
Jack Eschenbach and Clay Cundiff will try to fill Ferguson’s shoes at tight end.
Regardless of who Mertz has catching passes, he will need to be more accurate in 2022 - he completed just 59.5 percent of his passes in 2021 and 61.1 percent in 2020.
Mertz, who has been plagued by poor play on the offensive line and less-than-great play calling these last two seasons, can still sling the pigskin well, as he has shown during fall camp. Mertz has even been named to the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award watch list.
Behind Mertz, things are now a bit more unclear as senior Chase Wolf was reported out for the season on Monday with a knee injury. That likely slides redshirt freshman Deacon Hill into the backup position with true freshman Myles Burkett and Marshall Howe behind him.
With Engram entering the fold as the play caller, Wisconsin has a play-caller with recent NFL coaching experience, and one that has said that the Badger's offense will try to stretch the opposing defense horizontally and vertically.
The new Wisconsin offense will get a slight break to start the season, compared to 2021. Wisconsin’s first three opponents in 2021 (Penn State, Eastern Michigan, and Notre Dame), combined to finish 25-14 last season. Their skill showed on the box scores as Wisconsin quarterbacks combined to throw seven interceptions and just one touchdown during the first three games.
Wisconsin’s three opening opponents (Illinois State, Washington State, and New Mexico State), combined to go 13-23 in 2021, which should help Wisconsin break in its shiny new offense.
Mertz himself, seems to be a fan of the new system and how Engram has made it the team’s offense.
“The cool thing and the thing I appreciate about coach Engram is he wanted to make it our offense and really come together and morph with what we already had as far as verbiage and stuff like that and also add a bunch of new wrinkles into it,” Mertz said. “The cool thing about it is, yeah, it’s his offense, but he made sure we made it our offense and we can own it.”
Despite all of the issues that Mertz has had in his time at Wisconsin, I still think he is poised for a breakout season, with a new offensive scheme to follow and another year under his belt.
While I think we could see a slower start to the season, with the inexperience at receiver, the introduction of a new offense in game situations and the strong possibility of Wisconsin leaning on using the rushing offense to coast to the finish line during one-sided, early season non-conference games, I think we could see a reintroduction of #MertzMania of 2022.