After doing little wrong in his first two starts, Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz couldn’t do much right in his last appearance.
That puts the redshirt freshman in an unfamiliar position as he tries to bounce back from a loss for the first time in his career Saturday when the 18th-ranked Badgers (2-1, No. 16 College Football Playoff ) host No. 10 Indiana (5-1, No. 12 CFP)
“I think they feed off of each other,” Mertz said. “I think they do a great job of getting to the quarterback. We’ve got to have a great plan for that. They do a great job of hiding their blitzes and then bringing them post-snap. For us, it’s trying to find those little things to identify it.”
That means plenty of film study for a guy who already is an expert in that regard.
Mertz raised plenty of eyebrows this week with his statement that he spends “close to five or six hours every day watching film.” Mertz says that gives him an advantage comparable to having a cheat code for a video game.
“It might be a little crazy saying that number now that I think about it, but that’s the reality of it,” Mertz said.
That number may seem hard to believe, but offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph noted the hours can add up if players do their own individual film study to go along with their team-wide or position-wide sessions.
Rudolph said he expects Mertz to benefit from going over what went wrong at Northwestern.
“He will bounce back in a great way, as everyone will,” Rudolph said. “It’s not the first time we’ve gone in there and not done a great job in taking care of the ball, and we’ve bounced back. That’s part of the reason why this is the program that it is, the resiliency of the group and the mindset to bounce back and attack the next opportunity at a million percent.”
The Hoosiers average 3.33 sacks per game to lead the Big Ten and rank 15th nationally. Mertz said it seems that most of Indiana’s interceptions have resulted from pressure that forces quarterbacks into making bad throws.
Indiana’s secondary has made the most of those opportunities.
“The vision coverage has been a big thing for us,” Indiana cornerback Jaylin Williams said. “The vision coverages give us a chance to read the quarterback and see where he is going. We have played a lot of one-read quarterbacks in the past couple of weeks, and we have been able to make our reads based on the movement of their shoulders.”
Indiana will have to lean on that defense even more now that a torn anterior cruciate ligament has sidelined star quarterback Michael Penix Jr. for the rest of the season.
Mertz wants to make sure Indiana’s defense doesn’t add to its interception total. He will try to recapture the form he showed while not committing a single turnover in blowout victories over Illinois and Michigan.
He should be working with a stronger group of receivers this time. Wisconsin was missing wideouts Kendric Pryor and Danny Davis for the Northwestern game. Pryor is expected to play Saturday, though Davis’ status remains uncertain.
Martz’s teammates like how he’s responded thus far. Pryor noted that Mertz was looking for ways to get better even after going 20 of 21 and throwing five touchdown passes in the Illinois game.
“That kind of mindset is what makes him so good,” Pryor said.
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