Former Wisconsin QB Graham Mertz to play for Florida in 2023

florida gators
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Former Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz is transferring to Florida, giving the Gators an experienced starter at a depleted position.

Mertz announced his commitment on social media Wednesday. He is expected to enroll at the Southeastern Conference school in January.

A three-year starter at Wisconsin, Mertz left the program after the Badgers hired former Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell to head its program.

He joins a Florida team that lost Anthony Richardson to the NFL draft and dismissed backup Jalen Kitna following his arrest on child pornography charges. Third-stringer Jack Miller started the Las Vegas Bowl against Oregon State and threw for 180 yards and was sacked four times in a 30-3 loss.

The Gators signed four-star quarterback prospect Jaden Rashada on Wednesday as a potential starter in 2023 and could mine the transfer portal for more help at the all-important position, where Florida lost Richardson, Kitna, Emory Jones and Carlos Del Rio-Wilson in a nine-month span.

Mertz threw five touchdown passes to help Wisconsin beat Illinois 45-7 in his first career start, setting a school single-game record for completion percentage and tying the school single-game record for TD tosses.

But he struggled with consistency the rest of his time with the Badgers. Wisconsin had a different offensive coordinator each of his three seasons as a starter.

Mertz has completed 59.5% of his career passes for 5,405 yards, with 38 touchdowns and 26 interceptions. He completed 57.3% of his attempts for 2,136 yards, with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season.

No. 17 Oregon State dominates Florida to win Las Vegas Bowl

Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

LAS VEGAS – The only uncertainty Saturday was whether No. 17 Oregon State would shut out Florida and end the nation’s longest scoring streak.

Adam Mihalek’s 40-yard field goal with 37 seconds left finally put the Gators on the scoreboard, one of Oregon State’s few disappointments in an otherwise dominant 30-3 Las Vegas Bowl victory.

The Beavers reached 10 victories for the third time program history and the first time in 16 years. They first accomplished the feat in 2000, when coach Jonathan Smith was the team’s quarterback.

Oregon State went 2-10 in 2018, Smith’s first season.

“If you were to look back five years ago and say, `Hey, you guys are going to have a 10-win season, win the Las Vegas bowl and beat an SEC team,’ there’ll be a lot of people laughing at us,” Oregon State linebacker Jack Colletto said. “But yet we ultimately were able to execute and do it. So five years from now, who knows where we can be?”

Oregon State (10-3) won seven of its final eight games, taking control early in the third quarter by going up 17-0. The only real question was whether Florida would keep its NCAA-record scoring streak intact. The Gators last were shut out in 1988, a span of 436 games and 57 games longer than any other team.

Mihalek’s field goal ensured it would keep going.

This was the first start for Florida redshirt freshman quarterback Jack Miller, and it showed. He completed 13 of 22 passes for 180 yards. Miller, an Ohio State transfer, was elevated to the starting lineup when Anthony Richardson declared for the NFL draft and backup Jalen Kitna was arrested on child pornography charges.

The Gators closed their first season under coach Billy Napier with three consecutive losses. This also was their second 6-7 record in a row.

“It’s my job to have the team ready to play,” Napier said. “We were not as ready to play as we needed to be.”

Running back Deshaun Fenwick was ready when called upon, rushing for 107 yards. He took up the load when Pac-12 Conference offensive freshman of the year Damien Martinez went out with an apparent shoulder injury on the Beavers’ second drive.

Martinez had rushed for at least 100 yards in six consecutive games and needed just 30 yards to become the fourth freshman in program history to gain 1,000 for the season. He had 12 yards on three carries before the injury.

The game always figured to be won on the ground in some manner.

Florida was 16th in the nation with 213.7 yards rushing per game, but Oregon State also had the 20th-best rush defense in allowing a 114-yard average. This was the fifth time the Beavers didn’t allow an opponent to rush for 100 yards, holding the Gators to 39.

Oregon State allowed just 219 yards while gaining 353.

“We finished obviously the way we wanted to defensively throughout the night,” Smith said. “You wanted to take away the run game and make it hard for them.”

THE REAL MVP?

In his final Oregon State game, Colletto converted a fake punt into a first down, blocked a punt, rushed another time for 6 yards and made four tackles.

“We’re going to have to replace him with maybe three or four guys,” Smith said of the senior.

TWO-QB SYSTEM

Beavers starting quarterback Ben Gulbranson was told before the game that Tristan Gebbia would get at least two series. Gulbranson didn’t let the decision faze him, completing 12 of 19 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown. He was named game MVP.

“He’s helped me out so much throughout this journey,” Gulbranson said of Gebbia. “He’s a great guy. He’s our captain of the team, and he’s going to be a hell of a coach. I would love to play for him when he pursues his coaching career.”

UNFORCED ERRORS

Florida committed 11 penalties for 82 yards, including six for false starts. Back-to-back false starts wiped out a potential touchdown drive in the first quarter.

“I don’t know if we’ve had that many in an entire season, much less one game,” Napier said. “We lived in third-and-long today as a result of inefficiency, missed opportunities, penalties. When you live in third-and-long, your percentages of having success are not good.”

UP NEXT

Florida: The Gators get tested right away at the start of next season with a trip to Pac-12 Conference champion Utah. Florida beat the Utes at home, 29-26, to open this season. Florida will have a much different roster next season, so that game will be the first opportunity to see where the Gators line up in Napier’s building plan.

Oregon State: The Beavers have what could be a tricky opening game at San Jose State, which is 7-4 and plays in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Tuesday. Oregon State, though, needs to show right away that its success this season is a sign of what’s to come and not just a blip.

Florida turns to ex-Ohio State QB Jack Miller to start Vegas Bowl

Doug Engle/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida quarterback Jack Miller, who transferred from Ohio State last December, will make his first collegiate start when the Gators play 17th-ranked Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Coach Billy Napier made the announcement three days after standout Anthony Richardson left school early to start preparing for the NFL combine and a week after backup Jalen Kitna was kicked off the team following his arrest on child pornography charges.

Miller was slotted to be Richardson’s backup during training camp before injuring his right thumb in August and needing surgery. Four months later, he’ll get a chance to show he deserves to at least be in the mix for the No. 1 job next season.

“He has been participating in practice for a number of weeks,” Napier said. “He’s perfectly healthy. … While he was rehabbing, we were very intentional about keeping those guys engaged. He’s traveled with us. He’s went through the process of prepping each week, watching the cut-ups, all those things at the end of the week from a test and tips standpoint.

“So he’s been through the prep for a game. Obviously, the volume of work will be a little bit different for him. That’ll be the biggest challenge.”

Miller will be without at least two offensive starters since the Gators (6-6) had four players opt out of the bowl: Richardson, All-Southeastern Conference guard O'Cyrus Torrence, linebacker Ventrell Miller and receiver Justin Shorter.

Defensive tackle Gervon Dexter turned pro Monday but will stick around for the Vegas trip. Several teammates who either already entered the transfer portal or considered skipping Florida’s bowl also agreed to play the season finale, some of them surely because of the destination.

“We’ve just got a lot of guys that are looking for an opportunity,” Napier said. “They want to play, and we’ve got a lot of respect for that.”

The Las Vegas Bowl is Dec. 17.

Miller played sparingly behind Heisman Trophy finalist C.J. Stroud last year for Ohio State, completing 7 of 14 passes for 101 yards. He also ran for 22 yards and a score in mop-up duty. Not wanting to sit behind Stroud another season, the 6-foot-3, 211-pound Arizona native landed in Gainesville to compete with Emory Jones and Richardson.

He quickly moved up the depth chart after Jones left in March (transferred to Arizona State) and Carlos Del Rio-Wilson left for Syracuse a month later.

With Kitna and Richardson now gone, the Gators are down four scholarship quarterbacks over the past nine months. Kitna would have started the bowl, but he was arrested last week after a police investigation found he allegedly shared child pornography pictures on a social media platform.

“Obviously it’s a sad, tragic event for all the people involved here,” Napier said in his first public comments since Kitna’s arrest. “I think really trying to help all the people involved.

“Obviously, Jalen is going to have to move forward. But it’s a challenge, and it’s one that I appreciate our leadership … certainly we’ve done everything we can do to help our players and staff. But as you said here, there’s some things that come with that. We’re turning the page and moving forward.”

Napier will turn to the transfer portal for help. He has four-star commitment Jaden Rashada ready to sign later this month but is expected to sign a polished starter and maybe another quarterback from the portal to provide more depth. Behind Miller, Florida has walk-on Kyle Engel and freshman Max Brown.

“I think we all would agree that this game, the quarterback position’s effect on your team with not only the production part but the leadership part, it’s critical,” Napier said. “We’ll be working hard to address some of the issues at that position.”