Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz confident he can improve his consistency

Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports
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MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz‘s production thus far hasn’t lived up to the standards set by his lofty recruiting ranking and sparkling debut as a starter.

He’s ready to stabilize what has been an erratic career by helping the Badgers earn the Big Ten championship game appearance that has eluded them each of his first two seasons as a starter.

“My word’s been `consistency’ the whole year,” Mertz said Tuesday on the eve of Wisconsin’s first preseason practice as the Badgers prepare for their Sept. 3 opener with Illinois State.

Mertz was the nation’s No. 65 overall prospect in the 2019 class, according to composite rankings of recruiting sites compiled by 247Sports, when he signed with Wisconsin. That made him the Badgers’ first top-100 247Sports Composite signee who didn’t play on the offensive line since 2007, when they landed running back John Clay.

He left an early impression that only raised hopes he might lead Wisconsin to Big Ten titles. In his first college start, Mertz went 20 of 21 and threw five touchdown passes in a 45-7 blowout of Illinois. He set a school single-game record for completion percentage and matched the record for touchdown passes.

But, he’s been inconsistent since.

“We really want him to trust himself and go play,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. “Play with consistency and understanding that we have a lot of trust him and faith in him. With that, there’s responsibility.”

Mertz’s 2021 season exemplified his rollercoaster career thus far.

He threw a combined six interceptions and no touchdown passes in losses to Penn State and Notre Dame during Wisconsin’s 1-3 start. He bounced back and played relatively well when the emergence of running back Braelon Allen and Wisconsin’s top-ranked defense spurred the Badgers to a seven-game winning streak.

When Wisconsin couldn’t run effectively and needed Mertz to step up in the regular-season finale at Minnesota, he threw no touchdown passes as the Badgers fell 23-13 and lost their shot at a Big Ten championship game berth. He then regrouped to help Wisconsin beat Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

“That’s how you learn from the process and grow as a man,” Mertz said. “When adversity hits, how do I respond? When good things happen, how do I respond? You go through all of that and you learn a lot about yourself.”

One thing Mertz has learned is that his teammates still have plenty of faith in him.

Allen says Mertz accepted even more of a leadership role this offseason. Center Joe Tippmann, who rooms with Mertz, marvels over the quarterback’s work ethic.

“We’re definitely confident in him,” Tippmann said. “The way the guy works in the offseason, it’s unmatched. He’s constantly working his (butt) off. I know that’s going to pay dividends for the team and for him.”

Mertz is facing more obstacles as he heads into his third season as a starter.

Wisconsin must replace top two wideouts (Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor) and starting tight end Jake Ferguson from last season’s team, leaving Chimere Dike as the only returning player who had at least 100 yards receiving last season. Mertz is adjusting to new offensive coordinator Bobby Engram.

Mertz and his new coordinator wasted no time developing a mutual respect.

“He’s a great man,” Mertz said. “For me, it’s more than just football with him. It’s life lessons and stuff like that. It’s been amazing.”

Mertz believes he also will have no trouble helping some of these unproven receivers step forward. He considers that part of his responsibility.

“It just comes down to doing your job,” Mertz said. “For me, how can I do my job better, to free those guys up to go play free? We’ve got young guys, but they’re hungry. They’re ready to rock.”

NOTES: Running back Chez Mellusi said he should be ready to practice fully when the Badgers open workouts Wednesday. Mellusi tore his left ACL last November. . Allen has honored former Wisconsin running backs coach Gary Brown by getting the initials “GB” tattooed on his left arm. Brown died in April at the age of 52. “I’m dedicating this season to him,” Allen said. . Wisconsin will hold an open practice on Aug. 21.

Alabama suspends freshman defensive back after drug arrest

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama freshman defensive back Tony Mitchell has been suspended from the team following his arrest on a drug charge.

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said Monday after the first practice of spring that Mitchell was suspended from the team “and all team activities until we gather more information about the situation and what his legal circumstance is.”

The Holmes County Sheriff’s Office arrested Mitchell and another man, Christophere Lewis, last week on a charge of possession of marijuana with the intent to sell or deliver, according to a post on the department’s Facebook page. Lewis also was charged with carrying a concealed gun without a permit.

“Everybody’s got an opportunity to make choices and decisions,” Saban said. “There’s no such thing as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You’ve gotta be responsible for who you’re with, who you’re around and what you do, who you associate yourself with and the situations that you put yourself in. It is what it is, but there is cause and effect when you make choices and decisions that put you in bad situations.”

Mitchell, who is from Alabaster, Alabama, was a five-star prospect rated the 34th-best player and No. 3 safety in the 247Composite rankings.

Mitchell was driving the vehicle during a traffic stop. After deputies smelled marijuana, Mitchell picked up a baggie of marijuana from the passenger floorboard, according to the department’s Facebook post.

Sheriff’s deputies found “an additional significant amount of marijuana, a set of scales, a loaded handgun between the passenger seat and center console, and a large amount of cash,” according to the department’s Facebook post.

Missouri linebacker Chad Bailey suspended after arrest

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COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri linebacker Chad Bailey was suspended from the team after he was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, the team said.

The 23-year-old, who was a team captain last season, was booked at about 2:45 a.m. and released after posting $500 bond, according to online records from the Boone County Sheriff’s Office.

“We are aware of the situation involving Chad Bailey,” Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said in a statement to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He’s been suspended according to Department of Athletics policy. We have high expectations for all of our student-athletes, on and off the field, and we will follow all departmental and campus policies.”

Bailey was Mizzou’s third-leading tackler with 57 stops last season. He started all 11 games he played, missing two with an injury. He’ll be a sixth-year senior this fall after opting to return for his final year of eligibility, the Post-Dispatch reported.

The Missouri student-athlete handbook says any athlete who is arrested must serve a minimum one-week suspension.

Bailey was pulled over at about 1 a.m. not far from the Columbia campus for an expired license plate and lane violation, a police statement said. Bailey told the officer he had consumed alcohol and then performed poorly on a field sobriety test, the Post-Dispatch reported.