Wisconsin’s QB situation for Michigan ‘still up in the air’

Wisconsin isn’t sure who will be playing quarterback this Saturday against Michigan.

Week 1 starter Graham Mertz is in the COVID-19 return to play protocol this week. He reportedly tested positive for the disease Oct. 24, the day after he threw five touchdowns in his starting debut against Illinois. According to UW, the 21 days he must sit started the day following his positive test and he is eligible to return to competition on the 21st day, which is Saturday.

However, the Big Ten’s protocol on returning to play includes not practicing until the 19th and 20th day. That means, assuming the team’s medical personnel sign off on his progress through the initial phase of his physical return to action, he won’t be able to actually practice until Thursday. Will that be enough to make Wisconsin’s coaches feel comfortable enough to put him out on the field Saturday night?

“The big question mark is going to be if we get Graham to the point where he is practicing, will he have enough in that you feel confident with him,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said Wednesday. “That’s still up in the air. I wish I could be more definitive. I’m not defined in my own mindset. We’ve just got to keep working through the week and see where we’re at.”

Pushed on who might play if Mertz can’t, Rudolph reiterated their depth chart has Mertz at No. 1, Chase Wolf at No. 2 and Danny Vanden Boom at No. 3. Wolf reportedly tested positive after Mertz and is unlikely to be available on Saturday, meaning it could end up being Vanden Boom under center.

Though he hasn’t thrown a pass since 2018, the 2017 Gatorade Player of the Year in Wisconsin was 28-0 as a starter in high school and led his team to a pair of state titles.

“Danny has always been someone that’s been very consistent, he’s smart. He’s been able to perform well even with the limited reps. That doesn’t describe everyone,” Rudolph said. “There’s a lot of guys out there that they don’t make improvements or they walk in and don’t show an understanding without the reps behind them. Danny does.

“The group has confidence in him, without question. They know he knows it. They know he’s smart, he communicates well and he exudes confidence in the huddle, so if we’re rolling with Danny, this group would be all behind him and feel good about it.”