Welcome back to the Open Jim mailbag, where one reader believes a potential solution for the University of Wisconsin football team's issues on offense can be found in Titletown of all places.
As always, thanks for reading and for those who submitted questions, keep them coming.
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What do you see as realistic expectations for this years MBB program? Given the influx of new faces and youth on the team, where do you see it having the potential to be different from past teams?— Andrew Zimdars (@andrew_zimdars) October 18, 2021
I’ll open with a disclaimer: While I’ve been at the only practice we’ve been allowed to watch during the preseason, I missed the Red-White Scrimmage on Sunday because I was covering the Packers-Bears game at Soldier Field.
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I expect this team to be squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble come early March. I didn’t participate in the Big Ten media poll, but I would have put the Badgers somewhere in the eighth- or ninth-place range.
KenPom and T-Rank both have UW projected to go 9-11 in the Big Ten and I had somewhere between nine and 11 wins when I went through the game-by-game schedule last week. I think the Badgers will struggle to score at times — nothing new there — and they’ll struggle to defend in the post against the steady line of monster big men in the league (Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson, Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn, Ohio State’s E.J. Liddell, Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis, Purdue’s Trevion Williams and Zach Edey.
But I think there’s a lot of upside with this UW team. There’s been an influx of athleticism and I hope the Badgers play a little faster — I’m not saying crazy fast, but faster — this season.
Johnny Davis has a chance to be a star and Brad Davison will be a good complementary piece. If Tyler Wahl can make a jump, that’ll be big. Chucky Hepburn is going to have growing pains as a freshman playing the most important position on the court, but he’ll get better as the season goes along and gives the Badgers a pass-first point guard.
Can sophomores Ben Carlson and Steven Crowl make jumps? What will UW get out of other true freshmen such as Markus Ilver and Matthew Mors? What type of role can we expect from Lorne Bowman, who was away from basketball last season?
It’s a really intriguing team that I’m excited to watch grow. But there are going to be plenty of bumps along the way.
Why are many Badger fans calling for Head Coach Paul Chryst to be fired & replaced by Jim Leonhard? This is a down season that Barry Alvarez had during several years of his 16 year tenure. BA didn’t defeat Iowa until 1997. 1994-1996 wasn’t the greatest. Same for 2001-2004.— Jeff Ostach (@jeff_ostach) October 18, 2021
This is a gentle reminder that Twitter can be an echo chamber where negativity drowns out reality. So while the “Fire Chryst” crowd can be heard loud and clear on that platform, I don’t think that’s indicative of how the fan base feels as a whole.
I do think a good portion of UW fans think it’s time for a makeover on offense, and I’m in that camp. As I’ve said previously, Chryst needs to take a long, hard look at his coaching staff in the offseason and decide whether to make major changes. Something isn’t right offensively in this program, and it’s up to Chryst to decide what to do about it.
Regarding the Alvarez-to-Chryst comparison, I wrote a couple weeks ago about the ruts Alvarez encountered as UW’s coach.
Here’s the difference, though: When UW took a step back in the mid '90s, Alvarez already had delivered a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl victory. When the Badgers hit the rut in the early 2000s, that came after back-to-back Big Ten/Rose Bowl championships.
The point is Alvarez had built a lot of credibility by that point. While Chryst has led the program to three West Division titles in his first six seasons, he has yet to get the Badgers over the hump by winning a Big Ten championship.
Mel Tucker and MSU embraced the transfer portal last year, even creating a "college scouting" group to make sure they were getting the right type of players in the program. Has UW done this, or will they?— Keith Schmidt (@madtownkeith) October 18, 2021
While the Badgers have dipped their toes in the transfer portal — Chez Mellusi is making an impact at tailback after arriving from Clemson — I’d be shocked if Chryst and UW did an all-out cannonball into those waters.
As with all things recruiting, there’s an academic component to consider. I know some fans don’t to hear that, but it’s true: UW can’t get every prospect through admissions.
But I think Chryst and Co. need to be open to change in a lot of areas this offseason, and recruiting is one of them. Right now, it’s hard to even tell what UW’s recruiting strategy is after that department has been depleted by departures. Meanwhile, other programs — Michigan State among them — are putting a lot of staff and resources into recruiting.
It’s just one major item on what could be a full plate for Chryst come December.
Brady Quinn said that he thought HS spread QBs generally have trouble with pre-snap reads in a pro-style college offense. To what extent is that the source of Mertz's struggles?— Craig Smith (@smithcp1) October 18, 2021
After seeing this question Monday, I decided to let Graham Mertz answer it for himself at UW’s media availability later that morning.
Here’s what he said: “Early, yeah, you’ve got to learn it. I never had really gotten under center. … I’d say when I first got here, that was the big learning curve, but now I don’t really have any problems with that as far as pre-snap adjustments. I’ve done a great job getting the right runs and stuff like that, so I don’t really feel that is a problem.”
For what it’s worth, I think most of Mertz’s issues are coming after the snap. As has been well-documented, his footwork has been off at times, he gets locked onto his primary receiver too often and he’s been inaccurate on some throws. Throw in some shaky pass protection and it’s no wonder UW has been so poor through the air.
Is the realistic best case scenario for Mertz in the games down the stretch completing 55% of passes for about 120 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs … and getting sacked about 3 times?— Badger Local (@BadgerLocal) October 18, 2021
I think those numbers need to be slightly higher, but that may be asking too much.
Here’s a winning formula the rest of the way against West Division opponents: 60% completion rate, 150-175 yards, 1TD, 0 INT.
How realistic is that? Probably not very realistic. Mertz has completed 55.6% of his throws this season and is averaging an interception every 20.6 attempts. He’s also thrown only two touchdown passes in six games.
But I think Mertz needs to hit the numbers I listed if the Badgers are going to win out.
There are two to choose from — quarterback and offensive line — and I go back and forth on which has been the biggest disappointment through the first six games of the season.
At least the offensive line’s run-blocking has improved the past two games. That group still needs to do a better job in pass protection, and that won’t be easy this week against Purdue’s George Karlaftis, but getting senior right tackle Logan Bruss back in the lineup would help.
So I’ll go with quarterback. I’m stating the obvious here, but Mertz has to be better for this team has any chance to win the West Division. We thought he could be great when he arrived on campus as a highly touted recruit. Right now, we’d settle for average the rest of this season.
Getsy, the quarterbacks coach and passing-game coordinator for the Packers, was the offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach at Mississippi State in 2018 before rejoining the Green Bay coaching staff.
By all accounts, he’s highly regarded by coach Matt LaFleur, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the entire Packers organization.
I think it’s a longshot to get Getsy to come back to the college ranks at this point.
Should GB double or triple what they’re paying Stenavich?— Tom Kahl (@Tomaskahl) October 18, 2021
It does appear Packers offensive line coach Adam Stenavich, 38, is a rising star in the profession.
The team promoted him to run-game coordinator last March and Rodgers said recently that he thinks Stenavich, a Marshfield native, is destined to keep climbing the coaching ladder.
The offensive line has held up well so far despite being without left tackle David Bakhtiari for all six games, left guard/left tackle Elgton Jenkins for three games and rookie center Josh Myers for nearly two full games. It also was interesting that Rodgers said after the Packers’ 24-14 win at Chicago on Sunday that it was Stenavich who helped draw up the nifty play design on Rodgers’ 1-yard shovel pass to wide receiver Allen Lazard in the second quarter.
So yeah, Stenavich probably is due a raise after the season. But if Rodgers is correct and Stenavich is going to end up with a bigger role at some point, I wonder how long the Packers are going to be able to keep him around.
How much longer can the Packer D hold out given the injuries?— Fred Ehle (@FredEhle) October 18, 2021
One more week, Fred. After that comes a stretch in which the Packers will play seven of their final 10 games against teams ranked in the top half of the NFL in scoring.
Arizona, No. 4 at 32.3 points per game
Kansas City, No. 5 (30.8)
Minnesota, No. 14 (24.5)
Los Angeles Rams, No. 6 (29.8)
Baltimore, No. 7 (28.3)
Cleveland, No. 9 (26.0)
The Packers need to get healthy, as I pointed out in my column from the game Sunday. And I think it needs to add a player or two, a point I’ll be making in a piece that runs later this week.
I just don’t think this defense can hold up against really good teams.
Will the Packers ever not give up a red zone score? Yeesh— whitey (@Whiteywilhelm) October 18, 2021
This streak — 15 red-zone trips for opponents, 15 touchdowns — can’t keep going, can it? Can it?
According to Elias Sports — stat courtesy of ESPN’s Rob Demovsky — the Packers are the only team in the last 40 years to not get a red-zone stop in the first six games of the season.
Prediction time: Green Bay will get one Sunday against Washington at Lambeau Field.
Badgers fans on Twitter see some signs of life after Wisconsin takes down Army — but not everyone's sold
High hopes crushed again
Every time I watch Mertz I think it’s going to be the game he turns it around and shows something and every game it’s more underwhelming play. I really don’t know how anything we see from this passing game puts us in position to beat Purdue and Iowa coming up— Andrew Zimdars (@andrew_zimdars) October 17, 2021
Room for debate
Won’t matter with this QB— Fred Ehle (@FredEhle) October 17, 2021
Holding out hope
Wisconsin’s defense got the job done. Their offense did just enough to win. Graham Mertz is still a work in progress, and I’m not optimistic that he can lead the team to a win at Purdue or Iowa at home in the next two weeks.— Jeff Ostach (@jeff_ostach) October 17, 2021
Nothing new to see here
Other than Braelon Allen's emergence, this is the same team we have seen all season. Offense cannot impose its will on teams and they eventually hang the defense out to dry.— Craig Smith (@smithcp1) October 17, 2021
Dinner and a (boring) show
Just got back to hotel after being at that game. I was as bored as my wife was watching that one. The best part was the brats and Mac n cheese from the concessions.— Eric M. Tostrud (@EricTostrud) October 17, 2021
Working with what they've got
Russ, you are right but, unfortunately, the playbook is limited with the talent they have.— Jon Ahlgrim (@JonAhlgrim) October 17, 2021
Stuck on cruise control
It reminded me of watching Packers games in the 70s.— Howie (@WhoIsRoark) October 17, 2021
I’m starting to think the whole Athletic Department is living off the heydays of when Barry had it humming along.
Any week now!
Every week I hope they show some progress and get better but it hasn’t happened. Outgained 218-80 in the second half. Tough to win with that formula when Mertz averages 2.5 TO’s per game.— Chad Steinmetz (@CSteiny24) October 17, 2021
Running at full power
Let's go!! I'm pumped about beating a pretty tough Army team. Love our new RB combo! Mertz umm— BigCat5969 (@TylerBouressa) October 17, 2021
Bowl a bit out of reach?
God bless your optimism. I am struggling to see what three teams this Badger team can beat to become bowl eligible? The die is cast. A down o line, unimaginative offense with a struggling QB, a defensive backfield that can’t cover and shambolic special teams. #ouch— Patrick Brzezinski (@glenlivit_guy) October 17, 2021
Take what you get
Enjoy it. Won’t be surprised if this team does not win another game this season sadly.— Michael Burger (@Burgscom) October 17, 2021
Prepping for a Boilermaker beatdown
Purdue will roll this team next week— Will Clausen (@willclausen2) October 17, 2021
Not getting any easier
Probably their last win of the season.— Mr. Joshua (@quinntile76) October 17, 2021
Good enough ... for now
Mertz and the offense weak again but the Badger D was good enough. This won't work with the better teams they play.— John Husmoe (@JohnHusmoe) October 17, 2021
We've seen worse
Making a point
This is THE question that needs to be asked. Is Chryst just not thinking at all in that situation???— Dan (@drkoz23) October 17, 2021
Their offense had the ball the bulk of it— Mark Benson (@MarkBen23939436) October 17, 2021
Buck stops here
He is the guy recruiting them.— rich carlson (@richwcarlson) October 17, 2021
In the driver's seat
Control our destiny in the West! Tons to play for.— Douglas Greenberg (@DougGreenB) October 17, 2021
Well, it really did
I thought the volleyball team played great today— Pat Richards (@pgrichards0407) October 17, 2021
Standing their ground
We went toe to toe with the best military in the country! On Wisconsin!— Dan Paulson (@kuatolives11) October 17, 2021
At least the defense is strong
Offense is terrible. Mertz looks lost. Defense is pretty good. Boring all around. That's all.— Troy (@troy_angus) October 17, 2021
It couldn't hurt
Will need to play much better to have a chance next week. Passing game will be needed.— Erik Grinde (@egrinde) October 17, 2021
Never count out a gladiator
Not great, but I will tell you this: His name is Braelon Allen, football player for the Wisconsim, alumnus of Fon du Lac, loyal Badger. 17-year-old Freshman, converted defensive player. And he will have his starring role as lead RB, in this season or the next.— Rob Vitense (@BadgerCubinMN) October 17, 2021
On to the next
Relieved and glad this game is out of the way.— Kurt Sagendorph (@ksagendo) October 17, 2021
Contact Jim Polzin at firstname.lastname@example.org.