Wisconsin will be without redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz against Nebraska. Mertz tested positive for COVID-19 through an antigen test on Sunday and that test has now been confirmed, a source told CBS Sports on Tuesday. Mertz will now be out for 21 days per the Big Ten protocol.
So, who will Nebraska prepare for? Jack Coan, Wisconsin’s original starter at quarterback, underwent foot surgery on Oct. 6 for an injury he suffered in preseason camp. Chase Wolf, the Badgers’ third-stringer, is also questionable for the matchup with the Huskers. He reportedly also tested positive for COVID-19, but additional confirmation has not been made available at this time.
Redshirt junior Danny Vanden Boom is most likely the next in line if Wolf is unable to play. He’s 6-foot-5, played in three games in 2018 and did not play in 2019.
Quarterback uncertainty doesn’t change Nebraska’s plans to defend Wisconsin though.
“If we can’t stop the run, there’s no reason for them to stop running the ball,” defensive line coach Tony Tuioti said on Tuesday. “. . . We gotta earn the right to rush the passer.”
From defensive lineman Casey Rogers’ perspective, the positive test is attention grabbing. It goes beyond being opponents though. Seeing a high-caliber player go down because of COVID-19?
“It definitely grabs your attention because it can happen,” he said.
It also reminds the players that while they may feel safe within their bubbles, they can’t take it for granted. Rogers said he’ll pray for Mertz that he’ll be OK, because “I don’t want anyone to have this virus.”
As for preparation for Saturday?
“From the Nebraska standpoint, we’ll prepare like anyone’s playing quarterback,” Rogers said. “We’ll be prepared for anyone who stands up at that position.”
Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander also wouldn’t be surprised if Wisconsin has some tricks up its sleeves. He’s a big fan of Wisconsin running back Garrett Groshek and he wouldn’t be surprised to see him as a Wildcat QB.
However, the sentiment was the same across the board: Whoever Wisconsin plays will require Nebraska to have to be ready. After all, it doesn’t change how the Huskers prepare. If Nebraska can’t stop the run? It’s a moot point, no matter who’s behind center.
More news and notes:
>> What’s the latest on wide receiver Omar Manning?
“We’re still working on getting Omar healthy, but we’re hoping he can help us this week,” offensive coordinator Matt Lubick said when asked about getting young receivers more involved against Wisconsin.
>> Chinander said that inside linebacker Luke Reimer might have been able to play against Ohio State—he didn’t travel with the team—but the Huskers didn’t want to “rush him.”
“I’m hoping he’s back up and ready to go,” Chinander said about Reimer possibly playing against Wisconsin.
He’ll be part of the rotation if available.
>> Wan’Dale Robinson only got six touches on offense against Ohio State. Lubick said that won’t be enough going forward.
>> Why did Nebraska use Luke McCaffrey in multiple ways against Ohio State? It’s all about getting the best 11 players on the field
“He’s one of our best athletes and deserves to play,” Lubick said.
He also said that McCaffrey’s football IQ is very high and that he knows what receivers and backs need to do on any given play.
>> What are McCaffrey’s thoughts on being QB2, while playing a versatile role for the team?
“It’s a blessing to be on the field at all,” he said. “. . . Just to be a part of the gameplan in general, I’m thankful.”
>> Nebraska players said on Monday that they thought the Wisconsin matchup would be a physical one. Rogers echoed that on Tuesday.
“This game is going to be won in the trenches,” he said. “. . . We’re ready for it. We’re ready to bang some heads.”
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.