Graham Mertz exudes a quiet confidence. He is not overly large like some of his teammates, but the third-year starting quarterback certainly carries his own unique aura around the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
While his confidence off the field certainly exists, the on-field confidence has lacked in the majority of his 20 career starts.
But something feels different about Graham Mertz this year.
When speaking to reporters in a press conference Monday, Mertz discussed his improvements in decision-making, arguably his biggest weakness throughout his Wisconsin career so far.
Mertz has certainly matured throughout the past three years. He has an incredible handle on the media, and has clearly made a fantastic impression on his teammates and coaches throughout the offseason based on how highly they have spoke of him. But losing backup quarterback Chase Wolf for the season puts extra pressure on the guy who can’t seem to catch a break.
Mertz is once again giving people reason to believe in him, and his talents this season. He strongly developed as a passer late last season and showed occasional flashes of excellence.
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By the end of last season, when Wisconsin had a solidified offensive line and running game with the emergence of Braelon Allen, Mertz no longer had to win games by himself. He adjusted to the help he had around him and his workload was dialed back significantly.
In three of Wisconsin’s four losses last season, Mertz threw the ball more than 35 times. In their nine wins, the most passes attempted was 23, finishing with less than 20 attempts in seven of those nine games.
Quite simply, if Wisconsin is in a position where they need to throw frequently to win a game, they will struggle. That is just how the offense is designed and how the program has been run for decades.
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There are a few major reasons people are believing in Mertz this season.
First and foremost: Mertz has experience. He has now played a full Big Ten schedule in front of full stadiums, meaning he has seen nearly every team in the conference and has a better idea of what to expect for a full 12 game season.
Another driving factor for Mertz’ potential for success this season are the weapons that surround him. Though the Badgers lost top receivers Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor to the NFL, they return an abundance of playmakers and arguably the nation’s best running back, Braelon Allen.
On the outside, Wisconsin returns Mertz’ favorite target for the past two seasons, wide receiver Chimere Dike, as well as wide receivers Markus Allen and Skyler Bell who are both poised for big jumps in their red-shirt freshman season. The Badgers also added Keontez Lewis, a big body deep threat receiver who transferred in from UCLA.
“Big play Clay,” is how Mertz referred to his roommate and starting tight end Clay Cundiff who will provide another piece of familiarity and comfort for Mertz this season.
The weapons are there and the protection is too.
Wisconsin will have, as usual, one of the better offensive lines in America. The group brings some experience as well, combining for 107 games played at the college level.
There are very few excuses for Graham Mertz this year. He has been put in a position to succeed, so this will be the year it all turns around for Graham Mertz. It all starts Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium.