Graham Mertz status for Saturday vs Nebraska after reportedly contracting COVID-19. Photo from @espnstatsinfo (Twitter)
- Wisconsin has dropped from a 10.5 to 4.5-favorite against Nebraska after QB Graham Mertz reportedly tested positive for COVID-19
- Big Ten protocol indicates that Mertz and close contacts could miss up to 21 days
- Read below for a look at how this news will affect the Badgers’ tilt with Nebraska
It is just over a week into this delayed Big Ten season, and COVID-19 is already affecting teams in a big way.
Wisconsin will likely be without Graham Mertz after the starting freshman quarterback reportedly tested positive for the virus.
The Badgers opened as double-digit favorites over Nebraska, but with this news, the line has moved to just 4.5 in favor of Wisconsin ahead of a big conference affair.
#9 Wisconsin vs Nebraska Week 9 Odds
|Wisconsin Badgers||-4.5 (-114)||-195||O 48.5 (-110)|
|Nebraska Cornhuskers||+4.5 (-107)||+155||U 48.5 (-110)|
Odds taken Oct 27th from DraftKings
Outbreak Situation in Madison
Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst is confident the game against Nebraska will be played on Saturday, but that isn’t the only concern in Madison. Mertz will miss this game after reportedly testing positive, and backup quarterback Chase Wolf is reportedly in the same situation.
In their stead, it will likely be redshirt junior Danny Vanden Boom, who has one D1 passing attempt to his name.
It isn’t just this Saturday that raises so much concern for the Badgers. Big Ten protocol – the strictest COVID-19 among P5 conferences – states that an athlete can return no sooner than 21 days after a positive diagnosis.
That puts Mertz and close contacts out for potentially three or four games. The next few weeks, with road trips to Michigan and Northwestern, become much harder with a third string quarterback.
Can Vanden Boom Get the Job Done?
Danny Vanden Boom has spent the last four seasons in Madison, so his knowledge of the Wisconsin offense is strong. The question comes down to whether or not he can make the necessary throws to win the game, and whether or not the running game can make up for a two-step downgrade at the sport’s most important position.
Vanden Boom stands at 6’5″ and came to Wisconsin as a preferred walk-on in 2017. He doesn’t have a great deal of arm strength and his throwing motion isn’t the quickest, but the height to be able to stand in the pocket and see the field exists, and there is the aforementioned knowledge of the playbook.
2020 College Football Conference Title Odds Tracker
Can the Badgers Adapt?
Ultimately, Vanden Boom appears to be a pretty solid option , considering the sudden loss of the top two guys on the depth chart. For a third-string guy, there’s a case to be made for him game-managing his way to a victory on Sunday. It all comes down to the help he gets from the running game.
The early signs aren’t good in that department. After churning out workhorse tailback after workhorse tailback, this new committee approach did not start strong against Illinois.
The Badgers did rack up 182 yards, but it came at a pace of just 3.4 yards per attempt. That raw total of 182 looks less impressive when divided by the 54 carries it took to get there.
Who’s the Better Bet at the New Line?
Nebraska was gashed on the ground last week, but considering it was Ohio State’s otherworldly offense, it’s hard to truly get a read on the Cornhuskers defense. There’s a entirely different level of talent for the Buckeyes, and with the way they blow out everybody, it’s hard to use any game against Ohio State as evidence for a pick.
It is the matchup of the Nebraska offense and the Wisconsin defense that give the Badgers the edge here.
Jim Leonhard’s defense has been consistently strong in Madison, and last year they gave up under 200 yards passing and 101 rushing yards per game. Nine of the eleven defensive starters for the Badgers are upperclassmen, and the unit has only taken steps forward by all early signs.
Mertz provided the hope of offensive electricity in Madison, but that will be put on hold for the time being.
If Wisconsin is to navigate the next few weeks, it will be a return to smashmouth defense and a quarterback that manages the game. With the line at -4.5, backing the Badgers to cover the spread in a low-scoring, 17-10 type of game, especially at a moment when so much of the public has backed off of Wisconsin, definitely has value.
With four years as radio host with The Ticket Sports Network and various written contributions to publications such as Fansided, Southbound and Down, and Last Word on Sports, Jake Mitchell comes to SBD with NFL, NBA, NCAAM, NCAAF and MMA know-how you can count on.