Assessing the importance of Saturday’s game for Wisconsin QB Graham Mertz

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Start No. 10 in the career of Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz is a big one.

The Badger signal caller enters the contest with a career record of 5-4 and a career touchdown-to-interception ratio of 9-7.

Yes, we know seven of those touchdowns came during the team’s first two games last season—five of them coming Week 1 against Illinois.

In all, the tale of the tape of Mertz’s start to his career has been pretty clear: he plays well against sub-par defenses and has a 5-0 career record when he doesn’t throw an interception, but the young quarterback has struggled to take care of the football against good opponents and has an 0-4 record in ranked games as a result.

The latest display of his struggles came Week 1 against Penn State, as Mertz and the Wisconsin offense managed to score on just one of its four red-zone trips and in essence handed the game away to James Franklin’s Nittany Lion team.

The closing stretch of the game was where we saw Mertz’s ball security and red zone struggles really prove significant. He threw an interception to Penn State S Jaquon Brisker on 4th-and-goal and came back the next drive to miss an open Chimere Dike in the end zone and throw a game-clinching interception.

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Mertz is still extremely young, so forward steps are both possible and likely.

But this is a really talented and deep Wisconsin team that we’ve already seen throughout outplay No. 6 Penn State. It’s a team that has a real chance at the Big Ten Championship if it gets good quarterback play.

So the question at hand: although Saturday is an out-of-conference game, how important is it for Mertz?

I would argue it’s vital.

Related: Film room: Analyzing Graham Mertz’s performance against Eastern Michigan

Things can only happen so many times before it turns from a data point to a trend.

If Mertz comes out like he did against Penn State again, that would be five extremely poor performances in five career games against good teams. Pair that with the fact that this Notre Dame defense isn’t as good as some of the others he’s faced, and it would definitely make a troubling development.

On the other hand, if Mertz comes out hot, takes care of the football and leads Wisconsin to a decisive victory, the discussion will then circle around whether Mertz is starting to figure things out.

The Badgers go from this Notre Dame contest to face No. 19 Michigan (3-0) and No. 5 Iowa (3-0) and the rest of their Big Ten schedule. An effective Graham Mertz is crucial for Wisconsin entering the meat of the schedule.

I’d make an argument that with him playing well and taking care of the football, this is a team that can win the Big Ten West and maybe even the conference. But without it, we could be staring at a 3-loss or 4-loss season and another year without a trip to Indianapolis in December.

For the team, which means for the QB Graham Mertz, that will all start tomorrow in Chicago.

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