Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz broke the program record for finishing rate in a game on Friday, finishing 20 of 21 passes for 248 yards and five scores in the Badgers’ 45-7 win over visiting Illinois in Madison.
“It was definitely fun,” Mertz said afterward. “I owe it to Coach [Jon] Budmayr and Coach [Paul] Chryst, we took a ton of time, one-on-one meetings and really just sorted the game plan out and we knew what we were doing and I felt confident in my ability to go execute and I think there’s definitely some stuff we need to clean up. A lot more stuff we can clean up.”
Mertz, a redshirt green bean, was climbed to the beginning part after Jack Coan endured a non-contact injury to his foot by and by and went through medical procedure. This was the main vocation start for Mertz, and his five score passes tied the program record for most in a game alongside Jim Sorgi in 2003 and Darrell Bevell in 1993.
“I thought he had good poise, thought he saw the field well. You never know quite how someone’s going to react in their first start,” Chryst said. “I thought he was himself and that you appreciate. I thought there was a good plan by the offensive coaches and he was able to execute it.”
Wisconsin didn’t get its standard predominant presentation from its run game, with Garrett Groshek as the main rusher for the Badgers with 70 yards yet no score runs. However, Mertz got a move on, opening the game by finishing his initial 17 passes.
His one deficiency was a dropped pass by Groshek in the second from last quarter on third-and-19. Mertz said the bombed pass was his shortcoming, that he expected to get the show on the road to his running back quicker and the two kidded about it after the game.
Tight end Jake Ferguson was his number one objective on the night with seven gatherings for 72 yards and three of the five scores. Ferguson was second in getting yards last season with 407, behind Quintez Cephus, who is currently in the NFL.
Those three getting scores are likewise tied for the most in a game by a Wisconsin tight end, coordinating Owen Daniels in 2005 and Garrett Graham in 2009.
“The kid’s smooth, the kid’s definitely smooth,” Ferguson said. “He was smiling cheek to cheek after that first touchdown. He knew, and everyone in that huddle knew, that we were rolling. It’s just awesome to see that out of him.”
Ferguson said at one point in the game Wisconsin ran similar four plays with progress against Illinois and Mertz demonstrated a portion of that certainty on the sideline, making jokes and keeping his partners centered.
The exhibition from Mertz drew the consideration from many individuals, including Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who tweeted “That man @GrahamMertz5 going crazy tonight!”
Regardless of that public consideration and a breakout game, Mertz isn’t celebrating right now, knowing it’s just one game there’s still a ton of football left.
“I haven’t checked my phone yet, but it’s great to hear from those guys and it means a ton,” Mertz said. “But I’m just happy the guys in the locker room are pumped right now and we gotta keep building on that.”