Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Merz broke the program’s record for completion percentage on Friday, making 20 of 21 assists for 248 yards and five touchdowns in the Badgers’ 45-7 win over Illinois away at Madison.
“It was definitely fun,” Merz said after the game. “I owe it to the coach [Jon] Budmayr and coach [Paul] Chryst, we took a lot of time, individual meetings and we really just put the game plan in order and we knew what we were doing and I felt confident in my ability to keep running and I think there are definitely some things that need to be cleaned up. We can clean a lot more things. “
Mertz, a freshman in a red shirt, was transferred to the starting role after Jack Cohan suffered a non-contact leg injury and underwent surgery. It was the first start in Mertz̵
“I thought he was in good balance, I thought he could see the field well. You never know how someone will react on their first start,” said Christ. “I thought he was himself and you appreciate that. I thought he had a good plan from the attacking coaches and he managed to carry it out.”
Wisconsin did not get his usual dominant performance from his running game, with Gareth Grosek as the leading dam accelerator with 70 yards and no touchdown. But Mertz picked up that loss by opening the game, finishing his first 17 passes.
His only unfinished game was a missed pass from Groszek in the third quarter of the third-and-19th. Merz said that the unsuccessful pass was his fault, that he had to return the ball faster and the two joked about the missed pass after the game.
Jake Ferguson was his favorite target of the night with seven receptions and three of the five touchdowns. Ferguson was second in the yards last season with 407, behind Quintes Cefus, who is now in the NFL.
The three, who receive touchdowns, are also tied for the most in a close-knit game in Wisconsin, which matched Owen Daniels in 2005 and Gareth Graham in 2009.
“The kid is smooth, the kid is definitely smooth,” Ferguson said. “He was smiling on his cheeks after the first touch. He knew, and everyone in this gathering knew we were rolling. It’s just great to see him from him.”
Ferguson said that at one point in the game, Wisconsin played the same four plays with success against Illinois, and Merz showed some of that confidence from the side, making jokes and focusing on his teammates.
Mertz’s performance caught the attention of quite a few people, including Kansas City quarterback Patrick Maomes, who tweeted “This guy @ GrahamMertz5 went crazy tonight!”
Despite this national attention and breakthrough game, Mertz is still not celebrating, knowing it is just one game and there is still a lot of football.
“I haven’t checked my phone yet, but it’s great to hear from these guys and that means a lot,” Merz said. “But I’m happy that the guys in the locker room are pumped up right now and we need to keep building on that.”