I left Whistling Straits late Sunday night thinking the powers that be would be foolish not to bring the Ryder Cup back to that wonderful venue.
Local boy Steve Stricker and his U.S. team made sure there wasn’t much drama over the three-day event, but it was still quite the spectacle. Fans were having a blast and the course, as usual, didn’t disappoint.
A big win for Stricker and Wisconsin golf.
Enough about golf because football dominates the Open Jim mailbag this week. Thanks for reading and submitting questions.
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If you could only name one ... What is the biggest problem with the Badgers offense?— EricTheRed (@RealEricTheRed) September 27, 2021
To me, I think a better question is what is the one thing that can be done to make things better. We know what the biggest problem is, but that can't be fixed overnight. What is the first step in fixing the whole?— Badgermaniac (@THEbadgermaniac) September 27, 2021
The biggest problem is quarterback play in my opinion, but it’s obvious that UW’s issues on offense extend beyond Graham Mertz.
The offensive line has been poor in the two losses, and while I think UW has three decent tailbacks, there’s not a great one in that mix. A guy like Jonathan Taylor can make an offense look a whole lot better than it actually is and I don’t think there’s a star in the Chez Mellusi-Jalen Berger-Isaac Guerendo trio.
There’s a similar issue at wide receiver. Danny Davis, Kendric Pryor and Chimere Dike are solid. But there’s not a game-changer at that position, someone who draws an extra defender.
But back to Mertz specifically. UW could be 3-0 if it was even getting average play at quarterback. It’s the most important position on the field, and it’s where the Badgers are struggling the most. The stat that sticks out like a sore thumb: Mertz has turned the ball over 15 times — 11 interceptions and four lost fumbles — in UW’s five losses over the past two seasons. It’s impossible to win that way.
Let’s be clear about something: Everything listed above is a Paul Chryst problem. Chryst and his staff either haven’t recruited the right players, haven’t done a good job developing them or aren’t doing enough to put them in positions to be successful. It’s possible it’s all of the above.
As for solutions, somehow getting Mertz to “solid game manager” status would be a start. The defense will keep this team in games, so getting even an average performance on the other side of the ball should be enough most weeks.
Does the team still believe that all their preseason goals are achievable?— Jason (@JasonGeldon) September 28, 2021
The Badgers are saying all the right things. I thought Collin Wilder’s interview Saturday was one of the most memorable postgame sessions in my two-plus decades in this business. You could tell Wilder had reached his breaking point after UW’s fourth-quarter meltdown at Soldier Field.
But saying you believe and actually believing are two completely different things, and I wonder whether doubt has creeped inside a program that is 9-9 since the midway point of the 2019 regular season.
It’s a little silly to talk about a preseason goal checklist right now. UW needs to beat a good team and only then can we begin to project what the rest of the season may hold.
Jim- does the fact that Chryst doesn’t make a change at QB mean that the alternatives aren’t any better? By not benching Mertz seems to endorse bad play by the coaches. Something needs to change on offense.— j b (@jjwbfdx) September 27, 2021
Do you think Coaches feel the pressure of the offense non-productivity and the pressure to try a different Quarterback? If you desired a change in QB, who would you select? How about the the Freshman QB?— JMW123 (@jmw1235) September 28, 2021
I haven’t seen anything from Chase Wolf in practice or games to indicate he’s a better option than Mertz.
I understand the argument that not benching Mertz sends a bad message, but Chryst’s main priority has to be to play the guy who gives UW the best chance to win. It’s clear he still believes that’s Mertz.
From the limited reps I saw of Deacon Hill in camp, it didn’t appear he was anywhere close to being ready to play. And that’s not a knock on Hill — he’s a true freshman and will need some time to develop.
Do you think Wisconsin would ever go back to the transfer market for a QB, especially heading into next year if Graham doesn't improve?— Justin Radin (@JRadin15) September 27, 2021
If the situation is still this dire in two months, then Chryst owes it his players and this program to at least look to see what’s out there.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. There are nine games left in the regular season, and that’s plenty of time for Mertz to figure out this. I say it every week, albeit with a little less confidence each time: I still think there’s a good quarterback in there somewhere.
How much of Mertz's issues with footwork/ballhandling can be traced back to being pure shotgun in HS? Almost always had clean pocket/feet.— Steve Moon (@moonraker717) September 27, 2021
Mertz is now in his third season at UW. We’re way past the point where old habits from high school can be used as an excuse.
Setting aside this year's issues and associated questions, do you know if there has been any discussion regarding Leonard's future in UW's succession planning?— GT Schutz (@GTSchutz) September 27, 2021
Jim: with the consistent, high level of play from our defense and the consistent, low level of play from all other aspects of the game (offense, special teams, recruiting)…when do we promote Coach Leonhard to HC? Fear we lose the only positive aspect of the program if we don’t.— Seán Leighton (@seanjleighton) September 28, 2021
I haven’t heard of any formal discussions about a succession plan. I’ve said previously that I expect Jim Leonhard to be UW’s next coach, but I have no idea when that might be. Chryst turns 56 later this year, so riding off into the sunset and retiring doesn’t seem like a likely option anytime soon.
This seems like a good time to remind people that Chryst was on the selection committee formed by UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank to help her find candidates to replace Barry Alvarez as athletic director. I don’t remember hearing any complaints about the makeup of that committee or Chryst’s inclusion on it from fans at the time. In fact, the overall sentiment was that people didn’t want Blank to look outside UW because Alvarez’s hand-picked choice to succeed him, Chris McIntosh, already was on staff.
If you were in that camp and now are expecting McIntosh to fire Chryst and promote Leonhard, pause for a second and ask yourself this: Does that sound like a realistic scenario?
Here are the facts: Chryst is 57-21 overall, a .731 winning percentage. He’s 37-14 in Big Ten play, a .725 winning percentage. Those aren’t the kind of numbers that get you fired at a place like UW. Things don’t look good now, but Chryst has earned the right to try to get this program going back in the right direction.
What is holding the OL back? UW has a history of solid line play. Sounds like UW has tried a lot of different groups this year so far. Is it lack of talent? Lack of experience? Lack of cohesion among the group (since they have tried a lot of different groupings)?— greg86z28 (@Greg86z28) September 27, 2021
How can the Badger Oline have any continuity if they are rotating players? Is this a red flag like when have you have 2 starting quarterbacks you really have none?— Fred Ehle (@FredEhle) September 27, 2021
If you haven’t already, check out Colten Bartholomew’s piece on the offensive line. Senior left tackle Tyler Beach says it’s “just little things” that have been the problem. Maybe Beach is right, but it feels bigger.
I was concerned about this group as far back as training camp. Other than senior right tackle Logan Bruss, who’s been the only constant in the lineup, there aren’t any offensive linemen who you could pencil in for All-Big Ten consideration. There are three or four UW linemen in that mix a lot of years.
I do wish UW would settle on its best five. The fact that hasn’t happened three games into the season is an issue.
A lot of the highest-rated linemen on the roster are in the early stages of their UW career. But it’s not like the rest of the group consists of Plan B recruits. As Colten was saying on the podcast that will drop Thursday, linemen aren’t making the jump from a development standpoint like they used to around these parts.
These all would be good questions for offensive line coach Joe Rudolph, but he’s no longer made available to the media after having his offensive coordinator role stripped during the offseason.
Barry Alvarez had some forgettable starts during his 16 yr. tenure. The blowout by Colorado in the opener back in the mid-90’s. Another blowout by Syracuse at the Meadowlands by Donovan McNabb’s Syracuse team in 1997. With 9 games left, what needs to happen to turn this around?— Jeff Ostach (@jeff_ostach) September 27, 2021
Beating Michigan would be a good start.
A win over the Wolverines would end UW’s seven-game losing streak to ranked opponents and it would get the Badgers back to .500 in Big Ten play. It would restore some confidence that I think has been erased by the losses to Penn State and Notre Dame.
I’ve been saying it since training camp, but the Badgers are going to have to win low-scoring games against the best teams on their schedule. They had a chance to do that in the opener against the Nittany Lions and made too many mistakes. They had a 13-10 lead early in the fourth quarter against Notre Dame and imploded.
It’s not like the Badgers have been completely outmatched while going 9-9 over their last 18 games. But they’ve struggled to finish and that’s something that needs to be corrected starting this week.
In 2016, ND went 4-8 and Brian Kelly did some soul searching and made some major changes to his coaching staff. Should Chryst be thinking similarly? Or do you think Chryst is a "stay the course" coach?— Craig Smith (@smithcp1) September 27, 2021
Some staff adjustments need to be made. How extreme is that makeover? Let’s see how the rest of this season plays out.
If there’s such a thing as an assistant coach hot seat, offensive line coach Joe Rudolph and special teams coach Chris Haering may be on it. But that type of housecleaning would require Chryst to fire two guys who have been working under him for a long time.
Why do you think Berger is not starting and barely playing?— WI & Packers FB (@BuckyfanMike) September 27, 2021
What is the deal with Berger barely/not playing? He was clearly our top back last year and there is no evidence that either of the others ahead of him in rotation are better.— Chris Davis (@cdavis20000) September 27, 2021
I kind of hoped the Jalen Berger saga was over after he made his debut two weeks ago against Eastern Michigan. We may never know why Berger sat out the opener against Penn State — he said he “can’t really give an answer right now” after the Eastern Michigan game — and Chryst insists there’s no drama.
But Berger had just two touches for 16 yards against Notre Dame after looking solid two weeks ago. Strange.
I have no issue with Mellusi being the starter. We have no idea what goes on in practices and meetings, but the coaches do. But it’s bizarre that one guy is getting 18 carries and the other one.
Plus, Berger still is behind Isaac Guerendo on the depth chart. Guerendo had four carries for 5 yards against the Fighting Irish. He’s the biggest home-run threat in this UW tailback trio and I understand why the coaches go to him as a change-of-pace option, but there has to be a way to get Berger more involved in the game plan.
How/why is UW a favorite vs UM, and how much of my kid’s college fund should I wager on the wolverines?— brUK (@bruck1464) September 27, 2021
I’ve stopped trying to figure out Las Vegas, but let me just say this: UW has won five of the past seven games in this series and has outscored the Wolverines by a combined margin 84-25 in the last two meetings.
The Badgers have given me no reason to trust them against a ranked opponent and yet my gut says they’re going to win this game: UW 20, Michigan 17.
Jim, as of today, what is the highest draft pick the Packers could get for Jordan Love? It is apparent to me that to keep Rodgers, the Packers are going to have to part ways with their QB prospect. Which they should do IMO.— Sean Stephenson (@sgstephenson) September 27, 2021
I can’t see a team giving up anything more than a third-day pick for Jordan Love at this point. He’s two years into his rookie contract, has limited preseason experience and no meaningful regular-season snaps under his belt and would be starting over in a new system. It’d make no sense for a team to use a high draft pick to acquire him.
Anything could happen, of course, but I expect Love to be the starting quarterback for the Packers when the 2022 season opens and Rodgers to be playing elsewhere.
Until then, sit back and enjoy this season. Why worry about the future when you can savor moments like the one Rodgers provided Sunday night?
Badgers fans can't hide frustration on Twitter after Wisconsin routed by Notre Dame
Big-time let down
😔 the words I gotta hear from my teammates later— F L ⚡️ S H (@Melvingordon25) September 25, 2021
Howling for some help
Is it time to give Wolf a shot next week? What do you have to lose?— Bob Spoerl (@bobspoerl) September 25, 2021
Headed in the wrong direction
It’s time for the new athletic director to take a serious look at the head coach and recruiting. The program is on a downward trend. Worst offense I’ve witnessed at Wisconsin since the late 1980’s. Zero jet sweeps. No passing early on first downs. That’s coaching.— Jeff Ostach (@jeff_ostach) September 25, 2021
Drawing a line in the sand
If the O line doesn't improve quickly this season will be a complete disaster. They control the run game. The run game controls the pass game. Mertz needs to improve a lot too. The D is great. Special teams are a lot better than previous years. They have what it take to win.— Ryan in Mukwonago (@BadgerFan1976) September 25, 2021
Buckle up for a bumpy ride
This is a poor team. Offensive line is one of worst i have seen at wisconsin. QB looks so confused on 90% of plays. No run game.— Nick Conrad (@bigconny019) September 25, 2021
Defense gets worn down.
This is just a very poor team. Going to be a lonnnng year.
Looking for a little flair
Where did the trickery go? The end around or fake end arounds, the crazy amount of pre snap motions. They had one trick play like that today and Mellusi broke it and they scored on that possession.— Marcus S. Horton (@MarkyMark03) September 25, 2021
Just a few minor flaws
We can't run the ball. We can't pass the ball. We hang our defense out to dry. Other than that, we're doing great.— Craig Smith (@smithcp1) September 25, 2021
Trouble from top to bottom
2/2. You never want to overreact to a bad game (or two). But the team I see is predictable on offense and not talented enough to make up for it. The defense is being wasted. Wisconsin’s issues look deeper than weaknesses at one position group.— Joseph Britt (@Zathras3) September 25, 2021
As bad as it gets
I was at the 59-0 loss to Ohio State in 2014. This was ten times more embarrassing.— Bill Pfeiffer (@billt209) September 25, 2021
Aiding the enemy
I was aware Coan played for ND. Was surprised Mertz does also.— Eric (@EricJamesS21) September 25, 2021
Offensive mind wanted
It’s time Chryst brings in an outside mind to be his OC. He simply doesn’t have it in 2021 to coach up the QB’s and game plan a modern day passing attack or scheme that does anything but stress the defense with power runs. Great HC/leader, but not the offensive answer any more— Andrew Zimdars (@andrew_zimdars) September 25, 2021
Both teams would like to have Coan back on UW's roster.— Phil Censky (@CenskyPhil) September 25, 2021
You're not alone
I have been following the Badgers for almost 60 years. Chryst is a good coach. However, I really wish that Coan was still there— John Husmoe (@JohnHusmoe) September 25, 2021
A little slice of home
At least the fans were able to Jump Around.— mike kerry (@BadgerMike) September 25, 2021
You never know what you've got till its gone
I did not appreciate Scott Tolzien enough— Tyler Shulfer (@tylershulfer) September 25, 2021
It comes with the territory
Woof, asking for "thoughts" feels dangerous after this one 🥺🤬— Scott Hettenbach (@Hetty714) September 25, 2021
Your heart goes out
I feel sorry for the D— Fred Ehle (@FredEhle) September 25, 2021
Worst O of the Chryst era
Is chase wolf worse than this?
Ready for a new approach
Major coaching adjustments on offense!— Nate Berg (@bergn65) September 25, 2021
There's still hope, right?
😂— Stuart Henning (@badgerfan82) September 25, 2021
Beware of dog!
Mertz isn’t good, Chrysts play calling isn’t good. Mess— ArtieHo (@ArtieHo2) September 25, 2021
In need of an overhaul
Offense is atrocious. Need a new scheme and QB— Chad Weinfurter (@chadweinfurter) September 25, 2021
Throwing in the towel?
Was it just me or did it look like the rest of the offense was sort of OK with letting that last interception be returned for a touchdown? If so that is the most concerning thing of all in a game with numerous concerns.— Tom Nicholas (@NicholasCSI) September 25, 2021
That is ... correct
Defense gave up 242 yards offense gained 318 and lost 41 to 13 . ND had 3 yards rushing!!!!— marcus (@minkus1818) September 25, 2021
Contact Jim Polzin at email@example.com.
Where do we go from here on offense? Scheme adjustment or qb rotation?— Todd (@pilprin) September 27, 2021