The one thing Billy Napier has leading the huddle on Thursday night is experience. Florida transfer QB Graham Mertz comes equipped with 34 career games played, having started all but one of Wisconsin’s 33 games at quarterback, totaling over 2,000 snaps across the past three seasons from 20-22. The Badgers went 19-13 in Mertz’s 32 starts at Wisconsin (.594). Mertz completed 460 passes out of 773 career attempts (60.0%) for 5,405 yards and 38 touchdowns against 26 interceptions.
Ole Miss’ Spencer Sanders (41) and LSU’s Jaydon Daniels (43) are the only active SEC quarterbacks with more career starts than Mertz, who is tied for the third-most alongside Mississippi State’s Will Rogers (32). Among active SEC signal callers, Mertz ranks seventh in attempts and completions while sitting eighth in yards and passing touchdowns. Mertz wields more career games, starts, completions, attempts, yards and touchdowns than six other SEC quarterback rooms: Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Missouri and Vanderbilt.
Mertz’s experiences at Wisconsin had a positive effect on him in Gainesville as he had to learn a new system while leading a group of unfamiliar faces.
“Came in in the winter and just kind of got the kitchen sink thrown at me,” Mertz said during fall camp. “Really wanted to learn fast. But in this game, the only way to truly learn is to take reps. Everybody, Coach Napier always harps on it, this is a rep-based organization. I took that to the heart, and I was like you know what, I’m going to try to find as many reps as I can, whether that’s watching film in here, in the room, practice. So for me, I’d say winter was really understanding what this offense is about. Spring was OK, let’s transfer that knowledge. And then I think for me this summer was a big stride, just being able to kind of run these player-led OTAs with the guys, take that ownership of knowing what every single guy on the field is doing it that time. I’d say this summer was a big stride for not only myself but the entire offense.”
Mertz’s has placed an emphasis on communication with his teammates throughout fall camp.
“The big thing about this offense is that you always need all 11, in every single play. We got to be on communication, get in the right looks, getting guys in the right spots. “We truly need all 11, every single play, all in.”
With Florida’s starting center Kingsley Eguakun questionable to suit up on Thursday night with a lower body injury, there’s an even bigger emphasis on communication as redshirt sophomore Jake Slaughter may be making his first start as a Florida Gator. Mertz believes Slaughter is more than capable of filling the role.
“Slaughter loves football,” Mertz said on Jake Slaughter. “I’ve seen every day, both of their approaches are very similar, they know, they’re smart, they’re tough, they’re dependable, they know what looks to get us in to, I can communicate with them directly on checks and protections.”
A significant amount of true freshmen are expected to see the field against the No.14 ranked Utes on the road in their first-ever collegiate game.
True freshman Tony Livingston is listed as a starting tight end, while the trio of Andy Jean, Eugene Wilson, and Aidan Mizell are expected to contribute this season.
“They have the talent and they want to learn, so there’re going to ask the questions, they want to learn coverage, learn leverage,” Mertz said on the freshmen pass catchers.
“He’s extremely talented,” QB Graham Mertz said on Eugene Wilson. “I’ve played in college a few years, I haven’t seen a young guy that fast, that twitchy, that retains information that quickly, knows how to get open, but he’s shifty man.”
While Mertz isn’t a preseason Heisman candidate, he comes into Gainesville with a ton of experience, which will be valuable for Florida’s young offensive weapons.
“You’ve got to know what every single person on the field’s doing every single play,” Mertz said. “I love it because it’s – how do we set this offense and this team up for success? You have that in your hands every single play. So whether that’s front adjustments, back alignments, defensive structures, we always have an answer. That’s one thing I truly love about this offense is there’s always an answer.”
Graham Mertz is set to make his first start as a Florida Gator on Thursday, August 31st at 8:00 PM EST.