Badgers’ Chryst says he never spoke directly to Williams

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
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MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst says he never personally spoke with Caleb Williams when the former Oklahoma quarterback was considering potential transfer destinations before choosing Southern California.

Chryst added that he did keep incumbent quarterback Graham Mertz informed about the situation as Williams was making his decision.

“He understands,” Chryst said, the day before Wisconsin opens spring practice. “That’s the world that we’re in right now. . You always want to make sure you’re communicating with your players.”

Wisconsin was linked as a possible landing spot for Williams thanks in part to his relationship with new Badgers offensive coordinator Bobby Engram, who is friendly with the Williams family. Williams and Engram’s son, Wisconsin receiver Dean Engram, were teammates at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C.

During his introductory news conference last month, Engram said “any great player that becomes available that’s interested in you, you have to look at.” But he added that “I think people really linked us together more than what it might have been.”

“A lot of that was played out probably more so publicly than it was,” Chryst said.

Mertz, the most heralded quarterback prospect to sign with Wisconsin since the arrival of recruiting websites, has struggled with consistency in two seasons as a starter.

He went 20 of 21 and tied a school record by throwing five touchdown passes while leading Wisconsin to a 45-7 victory over Illinois in his first career start. Since that game, Mertz has thrown a combined 16 interceptions and 14 touchdown passes since that game.

Mertz has completed 59.5% of his career passes.

“He’s now had two seasons that he’s played a lot of football and two seasons worth of opportunities and times where he’s done some really good things,” Chryst said. “And then there’s clips where this is where you absolutely have to get better, and this you can’t do anymore. The thing I’ve always appreciated about working with Graham is you can go direct with him. He cares. He cares about this team first and foremost.”

Mertz is working with a new-look offensive staff.

Al Johnson has joined the staff as running backs coach. Bob Bostad moved from inside linebackers coach to offensive line coach, a job he previously held from 2008-11. Engram will coach quarterbacks. Chris Hearing, Wisconsin’s special teams coordinator for the last seven seasons, is the new tight ends coach. Alvis Whitted remains the receivers coach.

Chryst said the special teams responsibilities will be divided among staff members. Chryst added that the Badgers would take a collaborative approach to play-calling responsibilities.

Wisconsin ranked first nationally in total defense but 88th in total offense last season while going 9-4 with a Las Vegas Bowl victory over Arizona State.

Air Force football sanctioned for recruiting violations

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force football program received two years of probation from the NCAA and had its squad size reduced by 10 for four years as part of its sanctions for recruiting violations.

The penalties were announced Thursday after Air Force and four individuals reached an agreement with NCAA enforcement staff on recruiting violations. A fifth individual in the case has contested their role and will be heard by the committee on infractions.

The sanctions also include a fine and a reduction of 46 total official visits for the football program in the 2022-23 and `23-24 academic years. In addition, there’s a prohibition on unofficial visits in football from Sept. 1 through Oct. 12, 2022, and a reduced number of evaluation days this fall.

Air Force has around 115 players on its varsity roster, plus a JV team that all count as NCAA athletes and its roster size.

“The (committee) appreciates the parties’ efforts in working collaboratively together to reach agreement on the violations, levels, classifications, and significant and meaningful penalties,” Gary Miller, the chief hearing officer for the panel and president at Akron, said in a statement. “The panel also recognizes that Air Force has gone above and beyond in its overall approach to this case.”

In a joint statement, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark and director of athletics Nathan Pine said: “The U.S. Air Force Academy is pleased that our case has progressed to the point of the NCAA accepting our negotiated resolution. We will continue working with the NCAA on this ongoing self-reported case from the COVID dead period, as it’s our responsibility to ensure integrity of the institution, athletics department, cadet-athletes and staff.”

The Falcons are off to a 3-1 start and host Navy on Saturday to begin the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy competition. The trophy is presented to the service academy with the best record in the round-robin format.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”