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Is there a realistic chance Graham Mertz’s time as the starting QB at Wisconsin will end after this season?
The Badgers play the team’s final regular season game Saturday against Minnesota, and then the program will play in a minor bowl game against an opponent that is likely average at best.
With Jim Leonhard slated to be announced as the program’s official head coach at some point this weekend, all options are on the table to build Wisconsin back up to where fans want us to be. That starts with the offense, and we all know quarterback play is priority one. While Leonhard hasn’t even officially had the interim tag removed yet, we might have any idea of his philosophy moving forward.
According to The Athletic, Leonhard was talking about what kind of QB gives defenses the most problems, and he told the press, “The great equalizer right now is a quarterback that can run and a quarterback that can turn a bad play into a good play. That’s always given us issues, as most teams. You look around the country. Anytime you can play perfect football and still lose, it’s pretty frustrating.”
How much should fans read into Leonhard’s remarks and what does it mean for Graham Mertz?
Allow me to start off right away by saying I’m not going to analyze Leonhard’s remark about quarterback play like it’s the Zapruder film. He didn’t say anything that anyone whose played “NCAA Football” doesn’t already know.
Dual-threat quarterbacks are absolute nightmares for defenses to deal with. Look at the best QBs across America over the past 10 years. The vast majority have the ability to make plays with their legs. They might not be run-first oriented but can still do it. C.J. Stroud is a great example of that template.
Now, Mertz is not a standard dual-threat QB, but he can run if he gets enough room. Is he going to outrun a defense back or linebacker? Absolutely not, but he’s not a bum when it comes to his mobility.
That’s not the issue fans should be worried about with Mertz. After putting together a few good games, his play has collapsed towards the end of the year.
In the past three games, he’s thrown for 336 yards on 29/71 passing (40.8% completion rate) and tossed two touchdowns to three interceptions. In those games, Wisconsin has scored a combined 48 points. That’s terrible.
Nothing about that stat line is impressive. Again, Mertz had a nice run early under Leonhard, but that’s disappeared over the past month. Things have been incredibly ugly on offense, and a lot of that starts with Mertz.
What options do the Badgers have?
The problem is there isn’t a great option right now to really push Mertz. Nobody has even close to the same level of experience, and the reality is Mertz is the best player in the QB room. In fact, it’s likely not even close.
That means the only option is the transfer portal. Could the Badgers snap a great dual-threat QB in the portal? Well, that all depends who is in the portal.
You’d also have to convince a guy to transfer to Madison to then compete with a guy who would be entering his fourth season as Wisconsin’s starting QB. That’s an insanely difficult sell.
Anything is possible, but given the situation Leonhard will have on his hands once the season ends, it seems unlikely to me Mertz gets replaced. Badgers fans better get ready to see a lot of Graham Mertz in 2023 because he’s going to be QB1 in Madison unless something major changes. I just don’t see that happening.