This Thanksgiving edition of Open Jim is going to begin with me thanking you for consistently providing thought-provoking questions on a variety of topics.
A mailbag is nothing without, well, mail, so I appreciate that readers have made my job easier in that regard.
The University of Wisconsin football team has reached its final game of the regular season and I'm predicting a victory for the Badgers at Minnesota on Saturday.
A 9-3 record seemed unrealistic eight weeks ago, but UW is on the verge of completing a pretty impressive turnaround and earning a trip to Indianapolis.
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Jim, Why don’t the four WI D1 schools play a holiday tourney each year? Have heard the UW and Marquette have nothing to gain argument, but there must be more to it than that. Would generate great interest and good community building.— Mike Heindl (@HeindlMike) November 17, 2021
I just don’t see how it could happen from a logistical standpoint even if all four parties were interested.
UW and Marquette will continue to play in multi-team events — it’s the Maui Invitational for the Badgers this year — because it allows them to play extra nonconference games against quality competition. Plus, trips to warm places are a reward for players and a chance for alumni to travel to see the Badgers.
That eliminates the possibility of adding another “tournament” to the schedule for the Badgers and Golden Eagles. I suppose the four schools could gather in the same spot for a non-bracket event, but that doesn’t really make sense, either, because the non-marquee game — UW-Milwaukee vs. UW-Green Bay — would be conference opponents meeting on a neutral court. Both schools no doubt would prefer to keep that game on campus.
So while this idea sounds good in theory, I don’t think it’s very practical. UW and Marquette will continue their home-and-home series and play every year, and the Badgers will continue to try to get UW-Green Bay and UW-Milwaukee as buy games when it works out for all parties.
Sometimes the obvious answer is the right one: UW and Marquette really don't have anything to gain from this proposed event.
Did Nebraska “figure something out” against our defense?— Brian Suttie (@BigDaddySutt) November 22, 2021
And will Minnesota do the same thing?
I thought our Colten Bartholomew did a really good job in his Sunday observations of breaking down some of the things that went wrong for the defense in UW’s 35-28 win over Nebraska a day earlier.
I agree with Colten: This isn’t necessarily a blueprint game for future UW opponents, but there are plenty of issues for Jim Leonhard to clean up.
It’s become clear that Nebraska is a bad matchup for the UW defense, and that’s largely because Adrian Martinez has played really well in three games against the Badgers. The Cornhuskers added some new wrinkles in their bye week and executed exceptionally well. UW’s inability to get to Martinez — or take him down in the rare times they did reach him — put a lot of pressure on the players in coverage.
UW needs to be more disciplined, but this was a good wake-up call.
Minnesota doesn’t have the same personnel as Nebraska — especially at quarterback, where Tanner Morgan can’t move around like Martinez — which is why I don’t think we’ll see much of a copycat game plan from the Golden Gophers.
Which is the more accurate statement?— Chris Davis (@cdavis20000) November 22, 2021
A) Badger D was exposed by Nebraska and will be vulnerable to similar schemes the rest of the year.
B) Badger D won’t have another outing like the Nebraska game. They will learn and adjust (as well as play better).
I think A is the most accurate statement, but I don’t think it’s all that accurate.
Let’s first discuss why B is less accurate: I think Ohio State is going to present issues for the UW defense, just like the Buckeyes have created problems for every other defense they’ve faced since they worked out some kinks early in the season.
C.J. Stroud has found his rhythm and has three legit studs at wide receiver in Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Ohio State also has a 1,000-yard rusher in TreVeyon Henderson.
So assuming Ohio State beats Michigan and wins the East — I expect that to happen — Leonhard is going to have his work cut out for him in trying to come up with a game plan that will keep the Buckeyes under 400 yards and 30 points.
Now back to statement A: I hesitate to say UW’s defense got exposed, but it was concerning that it wasn’t able to come up with the adjustments necessary to slow down the Cornhuskers. It appeared there were communication issues in the secondary, and that was surprising from a veteran unit in the 11th game of the season.
The one area UW appeared most vulnerable — and I’m sure Minnesota coaches noticed — was the delayed release by the tight ends that often left inside linebacker Leo Chenal caught between blitzing or holding off to stay back in coverage. It’ll be interesting to see if the Gophers … or Ohio State … or UW’s bowl opponent incorporate something similar into their game plans.
What’s the current rundown of senior+ players planning to return next year?— Badger Local (@BadgerLocal) November 22, 2021
And, how many more incoming / outgoing transfers do you anticipate? The count seems to be: +1 / -8.
Which seniors are the most likely candidates to use the covid year for an additional year of eligibility?— Marcus Bickford, MD (@M_Danger_Bick) November 22, 2021
It’s too early to say how many seniors will return next season. Kicker Collin Larsh announced Monday that he’s coming back, and it seems safe to say that punter Andy Vujnovich will join him considering he wasn’t recognized on Senior Day.
Cornerback Faion Hicks said he’s considering a return, but I think he and others want to play out the season before deciding — or announcing if they already have decided.
As for outgoing transfers, I don’t expect that number to climb much. Maybe another player or two will leave, but I can’t imagine it’d be more than that. There’s always the chance for more departures after spring practice ends and players have a better idea of how they fit into UW’s plans.
It’s hard to put a number on incoming transfers, too. This team is going to be low on experience in several key areas in 2022, so I’d expect Paul Chryst and his staff to kick some tires in the portal. But this program always has been about finding the right fit, and that’s not going to change just because the Badgers have more needs than usual.
Any updates on key 2022 football recruits? Jaydn Ott still in play?— Bill_Woj (@Slough_Creek) November 22, 2021
Are there any RB possibilities left for the Badgers 2022 recruiting class? If not, what about transfers?
— Marty in Madison
UW added a commitment Monday from Aidan Vaughn, a linebacker from Michigan. I haven’t heard that the Badgers are out of the running for Jaydn Ott, a running back from California who visited Southern Cal this past weekend and also is considering Oregon, Cal and Colorado.
Ott would be a nice addition at a position that really could use some bodies. Braelon Allen will be UW’s lead back next season, but Chez Mellusi and Isaac Guerendo will be coming off injuries. Julius Davis has shown flashes and should be in the mix for more playing time, while Jackson Acker’s six carries are hardly enough to project where he’ll fit on the depth chart.
Again, it makes sense for UW to at least consider hitting the transfer portal for an experienced tailback. But how good of an option could the Badgers land when anyone looking for an expanded role knows that’s unlikely with Allen, who’s emerged as a star, coming back?
are we gonna see 69 in green and gold out on the field this season?— Max Obois (@MaxObois20) November 22, 2021
Any idea when any of the walking wounded will be back for the packers? They are running out of bodies— Fred Ehle (@FredEhle) November 22, 2021
Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Monday that left tackle David Bakhtiari may be back after the bye week. That’d be huge after Elgton Jenkins was lost for the season after injuring his knee in the loss at Minnesota.
The Packers host the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday then enter a much-needed bye week. I’d expect running back Aaron Jones, who missed the Minnesota game, back after that.
LaFleur has been tight-lipped on potential returns for cornerback Jaire Alexander and outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith. I’d expect news on both of those players after the bye week as well.
Why do you think the Packers offense starts off so slow every game?— whitey (@Whiteywilhelm) November 22, 2021
Green Bay has scored touchdowns on only two of its 11 opening drives this season. It also has two field goals, a missed field goal and six punts in that collection of opportunities to make something good happen early in the game.
That’s not good, and Aaron Rodgers admitted as much after the loss Sunday.
“I think for us personally on offense, we’ve got to start faster,” Rodgers said. “We’ve got to score touchdowns on those opening plays, so I know Matt will be looking at that this week and dial up some good stuff for L.A.”
There doesn’t seem to be a common theme. In fact, the Packers have had big plays early in each of the last two games. The first play from scrimmage Sunday was a 37-yard pass from Rodgers to Davante Adams. But that drive fizzled three plays later and they had to settle for a 54-yard field goal by Mason Crosby. Rodgers hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling for 41 yards a week earlier against Seattle. But a holding penalty derailed that series and Crosby ended it by missing a field goal.
Then there was a three-game stretch against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Chicago: All three of those opening drives ended with the Packers punting in opponent territory, including two in which Rodgers was sacked on third down.
LaFleur said Monday that he’s got to do a better job of helping Rodgers get in a rhythm earlier in games.
“It’s so easy to want to put a lot on him because he’s so damn good,” LaFleur said. “He always goes out there and plays at such a high level. I do think we’ve got to be mindful of trying to let him get in that groove. Because once he gets there, man, it’s tough to stop. I think that’s what you saw basically from the back half of that first half throughout the rest of the game (against Minnesota).”
Should St Brown be getting more snaps, as he is more versatile than Lazard. They drafted Lazard to use his size (6’5’), but he doesn’t get the 50/50 balls and isn’t fast enough to get open.— Barry (@Barry01548357) November 22, 2021
Equanimeous St. Brown had two catches for 43 yards and also an 11-yard run on an end around. LaFleur praised him, and I wouldn’t be surprised if St. Brown’s snap count total continues to increase.
But you have to remember that Allen Lazard is a great blocker when healthy, and that’s a valued asset in this offense. I think there’s a way to get production in different ways from both Lazard and St. Brown going forward.
Badgers fans on Twitter have mixed feelings after Wisconsin barely passes Nebraska's test
Passing the practice examUpdated
Nebraska was a great test for the Badgers should they play Ohio State in two weeks. Martinez was effective throughout the game on crossing patterns, and Wisconsin didn’t have an answer. Braelon Allen is going to be among the great running backs in Badgers history. Huge win!— Jeff Ostach (@jeff_ostach) November 20, 2021
Like a fine wine ...Updated
I think everyone except Braelon Allen aged about 50 years after that one! Not sure if you heard, but he's only 17. Still. 😜😂😂🏈— Rob Hernandez (@RobHernandezGLF) November 20, 2021
Just sneaking throughUpdated
It was a TIGHT ENDing. But the good guys got just what they needed to win.— Chris Davis (@cdavis20000) November 21, 2021
A fitting farewellUpdated
Obvious take is that Huskers are much better than their record. Good test for the offense on a day when the defense was subpar. Happy for the seniors to get a win on Senior Day. Now on to the Ground Squirrels and the Battle for the Axe!— Russ Evansen (@waunaruss) November 21, 2021
Battle to the buzzerUpdated
Hats off to NB. They played a great game. Admire their no quit. Badger O was good and carried the D for the first time this season. Fantastic home ender— BadgerFan (@divot516) November 20, 2021
Keeping it rollingUpdated
7 in a row!— Sean Stephenson (@sgstephenson) November 20, 2021
Still room to improveUpdated
Did just enough to beat a scrappy Husker team. Defense will make adjustments and offensive line getting better each week.— Jon Ahlgrim (@JonAhlgrim) November 21, 2021
Offense returns the favorUpdated
This was a very good win. Nebraska was dangerous and way better than their record. Offense did what it had to. Not Leonhard’s best day, though. If we’re being honest Frost prepared his offense better than Leonhard coached his D.— ryebadger (@ryebadger1) November 21, 2021
Nebraska will beat Iowa...best 3-8 team I've ever seen— OnWisconsin (@jgraf36) November 20, 2021
NB should have called time out without losing valuable minutes. NB could have scored, gone for two so a PI and two receptions from a Uw loss. The PI the refs did call was uncatchable, so poor grade for refs. Badgers should beat Gophers for West title.— Steve Kazan (@skazan) November 21, 2021
Bring on the BuckeyesUpdated
Up for the challengeUpdated
I hope to find out— Dennis Whitehead (@Badgerden1) November 20, 2021
A win's a winUpdated
Not a clean game on either side of the ball…but ugly wins are still wins.— Todd (@pilprin) November 21, 2021
Enjoy the show!Updated
1) B. Allen will be on Heisman watch next year.— Cat Lady Darcy (@CatLadyDarcy) November 21, 2021
2) Hopes that Chryst cld attract WRs are dead.
3) I live near Indy. Not looking forward to watching my Badgers get drubbed by Ohio St. Again.
Flaws on full displayUpdated
Badgers were exposed again in the secondary. If opposing QBs get any time we can’t cover WR. Pass blocking and WR play needs big improvements for the Big Ten Championship game should we beat Minnesota next week— Bill Schroeder (@BigBill021) November 21, 2021
All too realUpdated
Nebraska fans must see Wisconsin running backs in their nightmares.— Andrew Zimdars (@andrew_zimdars) November 20, 2021
Picking up the slackUpdated
Stay with itUpdated
Need to focus on the secondary not breaking coverage when the QB starts to scramble.— Tyler Chesmore (@TylerChesmore) November 20, 2021
Narrowly dodging disasterUpdated
Too close! Nebraska was playing with house money and it needed every bit of effort to win this. On to Minnesota.— Kurt Sagendorph (@ksagendo) November 21, 2021
Finding another gearUpdated
Huskers played really well. These games happen. And the team dug down and won. Also our running back is 17 years old. 😌— Hannah Mott (@TheEverydayMath) November 20, 2021
It takes a teamUpdated
The defense wasn't great. Allen is a stud.— Brian Hipp (@Brianhipp) November 20, 2021
Living on the edgeUpdated
Scary relying on the offense when the D struggles.— Ryan (@RyanBrown812) November 20, 2021
Back to the drawing boardUpdated
For once, the Offense bailed out the Defense. Leonard and team have work to do this week…— Mike T (@badger2k) November 21, 2021
Bubble burst on the great defense. Ohio St. will kill them if they get that far.— Ken Rasmussen (@KenRasmussen2) November 21, 2021
Priority No. 1Updated
They won, that's all that matters.— Dickie P (@dpedder10) November 21, 2021