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Open Jim at half: How did Wisconsin football manage to get worse?

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LINCOLN, Nebraska — The University of Wisconsin football team was denied points as a late first-half field goal attempt into the wind came up short.

A Graham Mertz interception led to Nebraska taking a 7-0 lead in the first half. 

columnist Jim Polzin stopped by the BadgerExtra gameday experience to chat with subscribers and offer his thoughts on the first 30 minutes. Join the chat here:

UW GAMEDAY CENTRAL: Join our discussion about Wisconsin-Nebraska football

Here is a recap of the halftime Q&A.

Q (by Cooker): Just when I thought the Badgers could not get any worse … They are flat. Are they having morale problems with the team?

Polzin: I'm not trying to excuse that first-half performance, but I did wonder aloud a few days ago how much UW has left in its emotional tank after 1) A season not going anything like the Badgers thought it would; 2) Their coach getting fired five games into the season; 3) Losing a teammate in a tragic shooting earlier this week.

That's a lot to process. Now, there's still a lot to play for (the bowl streak), so you'd hope UW would put up a better fight in the second half.

Q (by JEFFRYMILLER): Packers ... who watches them anymore? Badgers ... at the least they are playing a worse team than themselves. Graham is not a good player though. What can they do next year? Get a portal player?

Polzin: UW absolutely has to hit the portal hard for a QB. Even if Graham Mertz returns for a fifth season, there needs to be someone to offer him competition. He hasn't had that the past two seasons.

Q (by Aaron Ferguson): Jim, between the Badgers and Packers have you had enough football yet?

Polzin: Aaron, do you know who I contact at Lee Enterprises to apply for hazard pay?

Q (by dnfolz): The recruit losses and portal exodus threat have to be having a big impact on morale as the HC future is no clearer now than when the change was made.

Polzin: Counterpoint: Shouldn't UW be fighting to make sure their guy (Leonhard) gets the job? They already feel responsible for one guy (Chryst) losing his job. Shouldn't that have been a lesson to never let it happen again?

Q (by KWinMo): Should the Badgers even attempt another pass?

Polzin: I'd like to see UW attempt more high-percentage throws than it did in the first half. That last series was bizarre: Graham Mertz is being asked to throw 20 yards downfield into a stiff wind. Why not run some crossers over the middle?

Q (by Splenda): True or false: when Graham Mertz plays well, the Badgers are a top 25 team. When Mertz plays poorly, the Badgers might be the worst team in the conference.

Polzin: Polzin-a-fact rates this as mostly false.

Northwestern is the worst team in the Big Ten, and it's not even close. And I'm not sure UW is a Top-25 outfit even when Mertz is playing OK-to-well. This team has issues beyond QB.

But your overall point makes sense. When Mertz avoids mistakes and manages the game, the Badgers have enough talent to compete with anyone in the Big Ten West. Which isn't saying a whole lot.

Q (by TopTeamsHaveMobileQBs): Would you say that Mertz transferring would be a " Mutual decision?"

Polzin: I do wonder whether a fresh start would be good for Mertz. But — and this is a big but — UW can't just let him walk unless it's absolutely certain it can find someone better in the transfer portal. And that's no given.

Playing QB roulette in December and January comes with risks.

Remark by Bobbo: Another pitiful offensive showing

Polzin: Accurate.

Q (by WillForest5): Since Mertz is the ultimate Coach-killer, why not try Wolf? Speaking of QBs, no interest from UW in Sun Prairie QB Jerry Kaminski? So far he is headed to North Dakota.

Polzin: UW has tried Wolf at various times in his career and — as hard as it is to believe — it's a significant dropoff to him from Mertz.

UW evaluated Kaminski and just didn't think he was worthy of a scholarship offer. Considering that every other Power Five team seems to agree with UW, I think it's the right call.

Q (by Splenda): Does Brad Davison have any eligibility left to play QB?

Polzin: Good one, kudos. By the way, how quickly would Bo Boroski apply to become a Big Ten football official if he heard Davison was going to return to UW to play that sport?

Q (by jwojpac): There cannot be a worse option at QB on this roster, roll the dice. Mertz still making inexcusable freshman mistakes

Polzin: I've said this 1,637 times, so why not say it again: The coaches have way more info at their disposal than we do. There are practices, meetings, etc., for them to evaluate the situation and they feel Mertz gives this team the best option to win.

The options are Chase Wolf, who has shown nothing in limited action to suggest he'd be a solution. And the only other scholarship player on the roster is Myles Burkett, a true freshman. I just don't think he's ready for meaningful snaps just yet, and UW would like to redshirt him this season.

Q (by Windsor Will): Coach killer Mertz doesn't have a viable back up? This is on team leadership. Why would a top receiver choose WI?

Polzin: Really, this is as much a Paul Chryst problem as anything and a big reason he no longer has a job. His failure to develop Mertz/have someone ready to compete with Mertz has created a massive problem at QB that is keeping UW from reaching its potential.

HuskerExtra's Sam McKewon: WRs will follow NIL money — a few Nebraska WRs on the team have done that a bit — but the general point is true. Guys who like to catch passes like to know the QB throwing those passes can spin it. It's part of how Purdue got Charlie Jones, who left Iowa.

Contact Jim Polzin at jpolzin@madison.com.

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