The Badgers X-Factor on offense going into the 2022 season is no doubt, Graham Mertz. For the Badgers to get back to the Big Ten Championship, they need Mertz to realize his potential. A big reason why the Badgers underperformed in 2021 was Graham Mertz’s struggles. Mertz was inconsistent at best this year. Mertz passed for 1,958 yards with ten touchdowns and eleven interceptions. Passing statistics like that won’t get the Badgers to conference championships and big bowl games.

The Badgers have always been great at running the football. A long line of great running backs have come through the program. The only two Heisman winners in program history (Alan Ameche and Ron Dayne) were running backs. Braelon Allen could arguably be touted as a Heisman Trophy contender as well. While it’s fine to be a great running team, Graham Mertz needs to be a factor in the offense and not a liability.

The Badgers Need More From Graham Mertz

If you need an indication that Graham Mertz needs to do more; look no further than Week 13 against Minnesota. In that game, the Golden Gophers’ defense shut down the Badgers rushing attack. This made the Badgers rely on Graham Mertz to win them the game. The results were dreadful, Mertz had just 171 yards passing, no touchdowns, and an interception. The whole offense didn’t have a touchdown that day either. As soon as the running game was stopped, the entire offense fell apart with it. This resulted in the Badgers losing 23-13 along with Paul Bunyan’s Axe and a chance to play in the Big Ten Championship. If the Badgers want to realize their aspirations and expectations, then quarterback play like that can’t happen.

Look at Today’s Game

In today’s college football, a team must have a great quarterback to go to conference championships and big bowl games. A prime example of this realization is Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide. Everywhere Saban has coached, he has had a strong emphasis on running the ball. For the longest time, Saban has recruited those big power-blocking offensive linemen to successfully execute his philosophy.

Historically, Alabama was always a running football team. Now, Saban knows he needs a quarterback that can win football games. It’s the reason that he has now gone after highly touted quarterback recruits like Tua Tagovailoa and Bryce Young. Young recently became the very first Alabama quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy. The Crimson Tide have also won more National Championships thanks to the shift in philosophy.

Something Hopefully To Build Off Of

All hope isn’t lost, Mertz had a good game in the Las Vegas Bowl against Arizona State. While the game plan was conservative, and the running game was working; he made some great plays. He helped the Badgers score points on four of five first-half drives. While the second half didn’t go well, Mertz was a key contributor on the Badgers 18 play 90-yard time-killing drive. He converted a big third down and 12 by completing a 30-yard pass to Chimere Dike. This was the most important play of the game as it ended any hope of Arizona State having a chance to send it to overtime. Mertz finished the game with 137 yards passing with one touchdown and an interception. The stats don’t tell the whole story about how key Mertz was in this game.

With something to build off, the expectations for Mertz to do well will not change. This season could very well be a make-or-break year for him. If the Badgers want to get back to the Big Ten Championship and make a New Years’ bowl game, they need Mertz to play well for that to happen. The amount of success the Badgers will have ultimately will hinge on the play of Graham Mertz. Graham Mertz wanted a challenge when he came to Wisconsin, well now he has one.

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Eric Katz

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