Why All Wouldn't be Lost at Wisconsin Without Mertz: Vanden Boom.

Herb Gould

Note: The Wisconsin-Nebraska game has been canceled due to the Covid-19 problem in the Badgers program. But we'll keep this post intact to give a glimpse at what might have been.

 By the time you read this, the point may be moot.

But here’s my thought on Wisconsin playing at Nebraska on Saturday without Graham Mertz.

Bring it on.

Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way: If the protocols determine that the game needs to be canceled (not postponed in this no open-dates Big Ten tightrope of a season), that will be unfortunate, but understandable.

But if the Covid-19 issue on the Wisconsin team is contained sufficiently to allow the Badgers to face the Cornhuskers, I am not going to play woulda-coulda-shoulda mind games about the absence of Mertz.

Of course, it’s a shame that he won’t have an opportunity to follow up on his eye-popping debut, in which he completed 20 of 21 and threw five touchdown passes in the 45-7 rout of Illinois.

That leaves Wisconsin in a most unusual situation. Jack Coan, the incumbent, already is sidelined indefinitely after foot surgery. With Mertz, the elevated backup, and Chase Wolf, the third QB on the depth chart, also out due to the Covid-19 issue, the Badgers will be down to their fourth quarterback if they’re able to play at Nebraska on Saturday.

That would be Danny Vanden Boom.

I know many of my Badger friends are fretting at this thought.

That was my initial reaction. But now, having learned a bit about Danny Vanden Boom, I am excited by the prospect—if the medical people who are overseeing the Big Ten’s strict pandemic rules say it’s OK to play.

A week ago, you may recall, people were wondering how Graham Mertz would fare in his first collegiate start. Things happen fast in college football.

Danny Vanden Boom (shown above) is not a wide-eyed true freshman who would be a deer in the headlights. He is a 6--5, 212-pound redshirt sophomore pocket-passer who is 1-for-1 in a Wisconsin uniform. He threw a three-yard touchdown pass against New Mexico State in 2018. That’s a quarterback rating of 455.2 if you’re keeping score at home.

Never mind that he has thrown only one career pass. Never mind that he hasn’t gotten many practice reps. He has been around the program. From all indications, he’s a sharp lad. And a mature one.

And Paul Chryst—a low-keyed offense-oriented guy who was an obscure QB at Wisconsin—is the perfect coach to put Vanden Boom in the right places to do well. 

Vanden Boom was 28-0 in two seasons as a starter at Kimberly High School, and won a pair of state titles there. Kimberly is a small town in the Appleton-Green Bay corridor. Having spent a lot of time in the Green Bay television viewing area, I can tell you they take their high school football very seriously, as you'd expect in the home of the Green Bay Packers, which proudly calls itself Titletown.

I can’t say I saw Vanden Boom play. But I have seen highlights of the Kimberly Papermakers. The nickname is cool. And the Papermakers play as cool a game as their nickname.

``His football IQ was really high in high school,” Vanden Boom’s high school coach, Steve Jones, told The Athletic’s Jesse Temple. “You don’t see that a lot of times. With high school athletes, they’re playing Madden more than they’re really studying the game. His approach to preparation was off the charts as well. He loved studying film. He loved preparing, which not only gave him confidence but also gave his teammates confidence and his coaching staff confidence as well.”

A few more Vanden Boom tidbits from Temple: ``In two seasons, he completed 291 of 429 passes (67.8 percent) for 4,865 yards with 56 touchdowns and five interceptions. He earned the Gatorade Wisconsin Player of the Year honor as a senior. He also was a first-team all-state baseball player and first-team all-conference in basketball.’’

Would it have been nice to see Graham Mertz have a chance to play at Nebraska? Is it difficult for Wisconsin fans to process the fact that they will be down to their fourth quarterback if the Nebraska game is played?

Yes. And yes.

That said, what a wonderful opportunity for an erstwhile Kimberly Papermaker legend—to line up against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Win or lose, I want to see that. And I want to hear what Danny Vanden Boom and Huskers coach Scott Frost, a former quarterback, have to say afterward.

This is why college football is special.