Graham Mertz’s Second Chance: Florida’s Bold Move as Starting QB Confirmed
In a dramatic shift of fortunes, Graham Mertz, who faced challenges during his time at Wisconsin, is now being given a fresh opportunity by Florida. Gators’ head coach Billy Napier confirmed the long-anticipated news on Friday, declaring Mertz as the starting quarterback for the upcoming NCAA football Week 1 clash against Utah, scheduled for August 31.
To secure his spot as the starting QB, Mertz had to outperform contenders like Jack Miller III and Max Brown. Miller had started in the Las Vegas Bowl last year following Anthony Richardson’s early departure for the NFL Draft, but he struggled to make a significant impact, completing 13-of-22 passes for 180 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions in a disappointing 30-3 loss to Oregon State.
Mertz’s decision to choose Florida as his new destination seemed logical, given the team’s need for a successor to Richardson. Reports from training camp, starting as early as spring ball, indicated that Mertz was primed to take over the reins. The only lingering question is whether Florida expects a transformed Graham Mertz compared to his previous stint at Wisconsin, where his tenure concluded with significant changes in the coaching staff, including the departure of head coach Paul Chryst and the appointment of Luke Fickell from Cincinnati.
Graham Mertz Journey From Stellar Debut to Unfulfilled Potential
Upon joining Wisconsin as the program’s highest-rated quarterback recruit, Mertz quickly amplified the anticipation around him. His dazzling debut as a starter in 2020, where he went an astonishing 20-for-21 with 248 passing yards, five touchdowns, and zero interceptions against Illinois, only intensified the excitement.
During that moment, Mertz, a redshirt freshman, embodied the quarterback Wisconsin fans had long yearned for since the era of Russell Wilson. However, his trajectory took an unexpected turn after he tested positive for COVID-19 the following day, marking the unfortunate turning point from which he never fully recovered.
Mertz’s Wisconsin journey concluded with 5,405 passing yards, a 59.5% completion rate, 38 passing touchdowns, and 26 interceptions. Although the Badgers invested heavily in him as the potential leader to elevate the team, their return on investment translated to a 19-13 record with him as a starter.
While Mertz displayed moments of brilliance akin to a playoff-caliber passer, a trail of poor decisions and misfires contributed to a sense of frustration when observing his quarterback play. Now, he steps in to fill the void left by Richardson, another quarterback grappling with inconsistency issues. With Mertz’s transition to Florida, the team holds aspirations that the coaching prowess of Billy Napier can unlock a magic that seemed elusive within the confines of the Big Ten.
What can Graham Mertz Bring to Florida
Mertz decided to leave Wisconsin before their bowl game in order to start again with a new coaching staff. Players and coaches at Florida have already been impressed by his maturity, experience, and leadership abilities.
Mertz Takes Charge of Florida Gators Offense That Underutilized Anthony Richardson
The much-anticipated “Mertz Magic” never truly blossomed into a sustained phenomenon in Madison. The standout game from his 2020 season, where he threw an impressive five touchdowns while completing an astonishing 95.2% of his passes against Illinois, remained the pinnacle of a career marked by uncertainty.
As a fourth-year junior who accumulated 32 starts across four seasons with the Badgers, Mertz has now successfully secured the high-profile starting role in Gainesville, triumphing over Ohio State transfer Jack Miller. This position has historically produced renowned quarterbacks, including three Heisman Trophy winners: Steve Spurrier (1966), Danny Wuerffel (1996), and Tim Tebow (2007), as well as figures like Rex Grossman, Kyle Trask, and Richardson.
Externally, expectations for Mertz are tempered when compared to the usual standards set in Gainesville. His career statistics reflect 5,405 passing yards, 38 touchdowns, and 26 interceptions. He is widely regarded as a one-year solution while highly-rated QB prospect DJ Lagway completes his high school journey. Lagway, a 6-foot-2 talent from Texas, is anticipated to enroll in January 2024 and potentially assume a starting role under Napier’s coaching with the Gators.
In the interim, the spotlight shifts to Mertz, with the hope that he can steer Florida away from a third consecutive losing season. The Florida Gators bank on Mertz’s precision, experience, and decision-making abilities to offset any limitations in athleticism and arm strength.
Mertz showcased his abilities in the team’s spring game in April, completing 18 of 29 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown. The controlled scrimmage also saw him “sacked” five times, and while his accuracy was evident, his lack of arm strength became noticeable with every deep throw.