Oohs and aahs filled Camp Randall Stadium two Saturdays ago. The Badger faithful shuttled around the bowl following the quarterback group wherever they went. But, they didn’t want to see the quarterbacks. They want to see the quarterback.After an Alex Hornibrook era that saw Wisconsin’s winningest season in program history in 2017 and perhaps its finest three-year stretch of all-time, Badger fans were often left scratching their heads due to the subpar performance from their starting quarterback.Enter Graham Mertz.Football: A closer look at Alex Hornibrook’s record as he departs WisconsinAlex Hornibrook’s 26-6 record is the best for any quarterback in program history, yet his performance often contradicted his team’s Read…Mertz, a 6-foot-3 product of Mission, Kansas, ranks as the highest-rated quarterback to come to Wisconsin in the online scouting era. He might also rank as the player with the highest expectations in Wisconsin football history.Mertz struggled early on in throwing drills prior to the scrimmage portion of practice, which was open to the public. Quarterback counterparts Jack Coan and Danny Vanden Boom hit receivers in stride nearly every pass, while Mertz threw several errant passes behind and over receivers.As spring practice shifted to the scrimmage portion of the afternoon, Mertz appeared much more comfortable in the pocket in a more realistic game setting.The four quarterbacks took turns captaining the offense early, but Coan eventually transitioned into more of a coaching role to aid his young teammates under center. Mertz welcomed the fans with a stunning 14-play, 98-yard drive completing all three of his passes for 39 yards. He later led a 51-yard drive that ended in a 15-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Adam Krumholz.He passed his first test in front of Wisconsin fans, but something tells me he would have passed that test regardless.Badger fans cheered and hollered for every single play by Mertz. A check down to a cutting running back elicited eruptions. Even simple, basic reads and throws led to fans nudging each other and saying one of two things, “I can’t believe we get this guy for four years,” or “Hornibrook couldn’t have made that pass.”These are not fictional quotes. These are words that were tossed around Camp Randall as often as Mertz made a positive contribution on the field.Coan and Vanden Boom, on the other hand, received no such applause during their time on the field.For all the expectations placed on an 18-year-old, Mertz may be one of the only people his age to handle it. In fact, he’s handled the big stage fairly well in his young career. In January, Mertz dominated the All-American Bowl, throwing for 188 yards and a game-record five touchdowns. As a high school junior, Mertz led Blue Valley North High School to a Kansas state championship. He seems to thrive on the big stage, which only balloons his expectations.Despite the hype, Mertz wasn’t the only person on the field.Fellow freshman running back Brady Schipper wowed fans with his impressive field vision and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. In his redshirt season last year, Schipper shifted to a wide receiver role before returning back to his home at halfback. Those receiving skills out of the backfield are something that the Badgers have lacked for years. Don’t expect Schipper to garner a huge amount of carries, but he could resemble more of a Dare Ogunbowale role in the passing game.Football: Last year’s top receivers return as quarterback battle rages onThis week’s Wisconsin football spring preview shifts focus to the wide receiver unit and the position everyone is talking about: Read…Krumholz, a Stoughton, Wisconsin native, also impressed with a slew of catches from Vanden Boom and Mertz. Unfortunately for Krumholz, the Badgers return all of their core receivers from a season ago. But his chemistry with Mertz could mean more opportunities if Mertz gets the starting nod.Senior tackle David Moorman saw consistent time at left tackle with the first-team offense. Moorman has really impressed coaches during winter conditioning and now in spring practice as well. The 6-foot-5, nearly 300-pound Moorman has played in all 41 games throughout his first three years, but only on special teams and as a reserve. With the departure of four-fifths of the Badgers’ offensive line from a year ago, Moorman is one of the many linemen seeking a spot.Cole Van Lanen looks to be the assumed left tackle come fall, but Moorman could slide to left guard or right tackle. His flexibility is a huge plus given the injuries that generally plague offensive lines.Sophomore tight end Jake Ferguson looked like his usual self in the passing game. The 6-foot-5 security blanket will provide whoever ends up behind center with a quality receiving option. Prior to the practice, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez spoke of Ferguson (his grandson) and what it’s like to watch his grandson play at Wisconsin.“Jake’s a playmaker and always has been,” Alvarez said. “He can catch the ball. I’m upset with the quarterback every time he throws and doesn’t throw to Jake.”Alvarez held a town hall Q&A session in the University of Wisconsin Field House adjacent to Camp Randall. Questions concerning a variety of sports were asked, but the majority of them returned to football as that is Alvarez’s specialty. He spoke of his wish to expand the College Football Playoff, upcoming non-conference opponents and some questions skirting around the topic of Mertz.Alvarez never mentioned Mertz or any of the quarterbacks when asked about what kinds of things Head Coach Paul Chryst looks for in a quarterback. Another question about how hard it is for a true freshman to start in his first year clearly invoked Mertz.The Badger faithful are used to winning, and last year’s five losses felt like an incredible disappointment with such high expectations. Alvarez chided fans saying that “winning is hard” and that “sometimes people take winning for granted.” Perhaps, Mertz and the Badgers can make last season an anomaly.
Early-enrollee quarterback Kedon Slovis played surprisingly well at spring practice. (Ling Luo/Daily Trojan) Throughout spring ball, a number of early-enrollee incoming freshmen on both sides of the ball made strong cases for playing time in the fall. With the loss of so many veterans to the draft, the freshmen’s ability to step up and contribute will be perhaps the most critical factor in the coming season. Though little more than a month of spring football doesn’t make the answers to those questions much clearer, it does give a better idea of what to expect from some of the younger team members. Jackson showcased his raw physical ability during the spring showcase, where he made a ridiculous one-handed interception at the line of scrimmage and proceeded to run it back for a touchdown. Jackson has been one of the most disruptive players on the Trojan front seven throughout the spring, and seems likely to have a big role to play come fall. Slovis showcases a natural understanding of the timing necessary for throws in offensive coordinator Graham Harrell’s system, as well as refined touch on his passes. He doesn’t have the strongest arm, and his mobility is limited. However, his ability to quickly make reads and put the ball where and when it needs to be makes him worthy of notice at the position. Although it’s highly unlikely he wins the starting job, his ability to run the offense smoothly provides the Trojans with more security at signal caller — something a team always needs. Though the receiver room is crowded with an incredible amount of talent, Jackson’s performance so far should earn him the opportunity to fight for a bigger role in fall camp. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him on the field regularly once the season begins. On the other side of the ball, quarterback Kedon Slovis has been a pleasant surprise for the Trojans. The Arizona native came into the spring with few expectations other than to be the fourth-string quarterback, yet his strong play has caught the attention of everyone in attendance. Allen continued to play well once he was moved back to safety, a position where the Trojans sorely lack depth. With the loss of so many veteran players in the secondary and the injury woes of many that remain, Allen’s versatility could make him a crucial player in the fall. Outside linebacker and defensive end Drake Jackson was perhaps the biggest shining star of spring ball. Jackson already looks the part of a Division I edge rusher, standing at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds and having been compared to USC legend Leonard Williams by head coach Clay Helton. Jackson carries that frame with tremendous athleticism, showing a rare burst off the line of scrimmage along with a special quickness in moving off of blocks. Defensive back Briton Allen, a late flip from Georgia Tech, found his way into plenty of reps this spring as a result of the numerous injuries hampering the secondary. Allen performed impressively when thrust into the fire at cornerback in the early practices — a departure from his usual safety position. Though his technique and footwork in coverage have a ways to go, Allen’s raw football instincts and aggressiveness showed up regularly. Fellow offensive newcomer wide receiver John Jackson III has been one of the most fun players to watch throughout the spring. From the first week of practice, Jackson has looked like he’s played in this offense for years. His route running is smooth and sudden, with exceptionally clean breaks that allow him to create separation with ease. His natural athleticism, sound hands and route-running ability made him a favorite target throughout spring ball, regularly making plays against the first team defense. Now that spring football practice has come to an end, the Trojans won’t take the field again to prepare for the 2019 season for two months. There’s no shortage of questions surrounding the team; the way it bounces back from last year’s disappointing season may define the program for years to come.
Asante Kotoko will revive their rivalry with their Ashanti regional counterparts as they come face to face in Sports Writers Association of Ghana (SWAG Cup) on Sunday at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium, Kumasi.The invitational Cup sponsored by State Insurance Company (SIC) is in honour of H.P Nyametei who was the first Ghanaian to be appointed as the CEO of the institution and also a former Hearts of Oak cum GFA chairman.Asante Kotoko who are the most successful club in the history of the Cup competition which started in 1972, with 13 titles are expected to play their hearts out to avenge the Otumfuo Cup defeat they suffered in the hands of Ashanti Gold, who have won the SWAG Cup on 3 occasions.Coach David Duncan has made a lot of changes in the Porcupine Warriors team by putting players such as Richard Mpong, Smallboy Korbah, Jordan Opoku, Prince Baffoe, etc on transfer, while about 7 new players have been recruited to augment the squad including Samuel Sekyere, Ernest Sowah, Edwin Frimpong, Bennett Ofori, etc.Also another big absentee in the Kotoko setup is Abeiku Ainooson, who recently joined Sudanese side Al Hilal on a season long loan.The Miners have a core of their team intact, but they will be missing the services of their skipper in the last season league, Lawrence Lartey, who is now plying his trade in South Africa and their attacking minded midfielder Didier Kore. Coach Bashiru Hayford’s charges will have the edge over their opponent in midfield as they are likely to parade the likes of Eric Opoku, who was last season’s Ghana Premier League best player, Kadiru Mohammed, Osei Baffour when they battle with Jackson Owusu, Kwadwo Poku, Benedict Ofori, Frank Sarfo Gyamfi, who will be in the Kotoko midfield.However Kotoko attacking trio of Obed Owusu, Dauda Mmohammed and Ahmed Toure will torment the Ashgold denfence.The supporters of Kotoko over the week cautioned their idol club to pull out of the SWAG Cup due to inadequate preparation to avoid an embarrassing defeat, but later rescinded their decision and are now backing their team to victory.–Follow Joy Sports on Twitter: @Joy997FM. Our hashtag is #JoySports