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Just askin': Nebraska or Wisconsin the better job? And, why isn't Vokolek being targeted?

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Luke Mullin has the Husker report after hearing from Nebraska's coordinators Tuesday at Memorial Stadium.

Welcome back to the Lincoln Journal Star’s Just Askin' mailbag.

The premise is straightforward. You ask me some questions, I attempt to answer them. Doesn’t have to just be football. Can be volleyball, basketball, softball, baseball — you name it.

If you want your question included in next week’s edition of the mailbag, you can find me on Twitter at @Amie_Just or email ajust@journalstar.com.

What’s a better job: Nebraska or Wisconsin? – Several

For those who’ve been preoccupied the last few days, Wisconsin fired Paul Chryst on Sunday after the Badgers started Big Ten play 0-2 with a 52-21 loss to Ohio State and a 34-10 loss to Illinois and former UW coach Bret Bielema.

I, like many of you, was shocked that Wisconsin parted ways with Chryst, considering his 67-26 record since taking over in 2015. He had never posted a losing season with his worst ledger coming in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign with a 4-3 record. His worst record in a full season was 8-5 in 2018.

The rest of Wisconsin’s schedule, on paper, is relatively easy moving forward: at Northwestern (1-4), at Michigan State (2-3), vs. Purdue (3-2), vs. Maryland (4-1), at Iowa (3-2), at Nebraska (2-3), vs. Minnesota (4-1). So, Wisconsin could easily go on a run before its game against Nebraska next month.

Wisconsin has a prime in-house candidate to take the reins: current interim Jim Leonhard, who had been UW’s defensive coordinator for six years. In 2017, he was a finalist for the Broyles Award — college football’s top honor for assistant coaches.

However, that’s not the question. The question is, which job is better, and frankly, that depends on how you look at it.

There are plenty of similarities. Both are football schools in the Big Ten with the cash flow that comes with that. There’s decades upon decades of tradition with football-crazed fans that fill up both respective stadiums.

Some differences, at least right now: Nebraska’s on-field production needs some overhauling while, Wisconsin’s, not so much. Off-the-field? Nebraska cleans house in comparison to Wisconsin’s facilities and resources allocated to football. Once Nebraska finishes its football facility and lays out the plans for the Memorial Stadium renovation, NU will take more steps ahead of Wisconsin in those phases.

With those things in mind, I’m tempted to say that Nebraska’s job would be better. But again, it’s all about personal preference.

Why hasn’t Travis Vokolek been targeted very much since returning from injury? – Kim M.

It’s not like Travis Vokolek isn’t on the field.

Last week against Indiana, Vokolek was on the field for 73 of NU’s 83 offensive snaps. For what it’s worth, plays and snaps are two separate things. Nebraska ran 78 plays, but snapped the ball 83 times. The difference there is the five negated plays due to penalties.

Of those 73 snaps for Vokolek, he was blocking on 46 of them — 41 in run block schemes and five in pass block.

For those doing the math at home, Vokolek was blocking 63% of the time when he was on the field. Since he’s a tight end, he’s mainly lining up inline rather than out in the slot. Last week, Vokolek had 16 plays where he was lined up in the slot position, and one where he was out wide.

"Just like a running back, pass protection is overlooked," coach Mickey Joseph said Thursday. "So the tight ends, they want tight ends to be receivers now, but he's a really good run blocker. I think that gets overlooked."

When a guy is in a blocking role, it can typically be hard for him to get targets, but Vokolek was the intended receiver plenty last week.

Vokolek was targeted six times on Saturday and caught one of those for an 11-yard gain. One of those targets, though, doesn’t count since the play was erased after an NU holding penalty. On two of his other targets, Indiana defenders were credited with pass breakups.

Vokolek was Nebraska's second-highest targeted receiver against Indiana. Trey Palmer was targeted nine times. Then Vokolek with six, then Oliver Martin and Marcus Washington were each targeted three times. Anthony Grant, Gabe Ervin Jr. and Alante Brown were all targeted twice. Brody Belt and Chancellor Brewington were targeted once.

"Travis is a big part of this offense," Joseph said. "I know we look for him to catch balls, but he's a great run blocker and he also helps pass protect. He's got a big role in this offense."

Is Casey Thompson’s injury to his throwing arm? – Ken P.

Yes, it is.

As of Monday, Thompson said he was pretty sore, but not in too much pain to where he couldn’t practice. Joseph said Thursday that Thompson's still pretty sore, but he came out and practiced all week.

The injury itself stems from the hit he took in the third quarter. He landed wonky with his bodyweight — 200-ish pounds — plus the defender’s bodyweight — approximately 250 pounds — on top of his shoulder.

It’s not the first injury he’s had this season. On Monday, he went through the litany of bumps, nicks and bruises: Left calf contusion, hip pointer, left wrist sprain, AC joint, sore jaw, shoulder.

But, all that aside, there’s no need to worry about Thompson for this week. He’s sore, but he’s practicing, and to use his words: “I’m not coming off the field unless it’s a season-ending injury. If I’m gonna practice, then I’m gonna play in the game.”

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Husker sports reporter/columnist

A Funk native and graduate of Lincoln Southeast, Amie Just joined the Journal Star as sports columnist after spending five seasons covering football for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the Missoulian in Missoula, Montana.

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