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All eyes are tuned to quarterback Graham Mertz when the Wisconsin Badgers are on the football field.
The offensive unit boasts a lethal rushing attack, good offensive line play (yes, I know it was bad Week 1) and a myriad of weapons on the outside. It seems like the only thing they need to become an explosive offense and one that can finish drives in the red zone is the progression of Mertz as a quarterback.
2021’s debut was a rough one for the signal-caller, as he was unable to finish key drives for the team, struggled to find ways to complete passes against the Penn State defense, missed big-time throws and had a few crucial turnovers.
But I’m not overreacting to his struggles in Week 1, as Penn State’s defense will prove to be one of the best the Badgers play this season and the unit was crushed by poor offensive line play.
Everyone can agree, though, that Mertz needs to show improvement moving forward. I laid out all last week why Eastern Michigan presented the perfect opportunity.
So, with the game in the rear view and Mertz’s full performance on film, what can we learn from how he looked in the Badgers’ 34-7 win?
The good: Timing, footwork, accuracy
Sep 11, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) throws a pass during the fourth quarter against the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
As I said leading up to Saturday's contest, Eastern Michigan presented a golden opportunity for Graham Mertz to gain a rhythm, work on timing and stack completions after a tough Week 1. There was obviously more good in his performance than during Penn State. But what good did we see specifically? Mertz showed great footwork, consistent timing over the middle and solid accuracy. From my thread of every throw from Saturday's game: https://twitter.com/benzkenney/status/1437532365950267394 https://twitter.com/benzkenney/status/1437535162242318341 https://twitter.com/benzkenney/status/1437539167890780161 https://twitter.com/benzkenney/status/1437542897222569989 https://twitter.com/benzkenney/status/1437543658681733126
The bad: Hesitation on boundary routes
Sep 11, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) throws a pass during warmups prior to the game against the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
If there was one thing Mertz struggled with on Saturday, it was hitting his wide receivers in stride on boundary routes. These routes require precise timing and ball placement. Although Mertz consistently found completions there, there was some hesitation which forced his receivers to come back 5 yards to catch the ball. https://twitter.com/benzkenney/status/1437538359044452353 https://twitter.com/benzkenney/status/1437539849574273026
More good: Read progression, poise
Sep 4, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Paul Chryst talks with quarterback Graham Mertz (5) during the third quarter against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Where I think Mertz did extremely well on Saturday is finding the right read. His biggest criticism has been locking on to Jake Ferguson or a wide receiver and trying to force the ball into nonexistent windows. Here's where he did well in that regard: https://twitter.com/benzkenney/status/1437537325379108866 https://twitter.com/benzkenney/status/1437544538806145027 Then there's the endzone throw to Kendric Pryor, which I think is the best play and throw he made all night. https://twitter.com/benzkenney/status/1437535884568629250