Frankie V’s Prediction: Notre Dame Faces Measuring Stick Game in Showdown with Wisconsin

We're about to find out just what kind of team Notre Dame has in 2021.

On Saturday afternoon in Chicago, Notre Dame faces its first pivotal contest of the young season against the #18 ranked Wisconsin Badgers. Despite entering the contest ranked ahead of the Badgers by six spots in the AP Poll, the Irish are nearly a touchdown underdog on the neutral field of Soldier Field. After three relatively underwhelming performances to start the season, the game offers Notre Dame their first real measuring stick of the season.

Is Notre Dame a good team that just played poorly and is about to hit their stride? Or are the Irish a flawed team that will have their flaws exposed on Fox’s Big Noon Saturday in front of a national audience? We’re about to find out.

What Worries Me This Week

Pass Protection

Wisconsin’s secondary is susceptible to the pass, but to take advantage, the Irish need to keep Wisconsin-transfer Jack Coan standing upright to get the ball off. Unfortunately, Notre Dame’s leaky offensive line is among the worst in the nations regarding sacks allowed in the early part of the season. The Irish ranked 126th overall in the country in sacks allowed with 15 through three games.

Jack Coan has not helped Notre Dame’s reworked offensive line with a lack of mobility, but the line has allowed entirely too much pressure so far. Michael Carmody, the replacement for Blake Fisher at left tackle, is still a game-time decision, but even if he plays, the Irish line has not shown much week-over-week improvement in pass protection. If Notre Dame can’t give Coan time to pass, the Irish will struggle to put points on the scoreboard.

Last week Notre Dame needed to keep Michael Mayer in to block, which took away a key cog in Notre Dame’s short to intermediate passing game. They’ll need Mayer this weekend to do more than block.

Status of Kurt Hinish

There have been rumors about Kurt Hinish‘s availability for this weekend floating around for much of the week. Brian Kelly was asked about them on Thursday at his media availability, and the Irish head coach was evasive in his answer. Kelly has no reason to give a definitive answer regarding Hinish’s availability, but if he isn’t able to play for whatever reason, the Irish rush defense takes a huge hit.

It is no secret that Wisconsin will want to run the ball. It’s what they do. It’s what they’ll pretty much always done. So the Irish rush defense could be more susceptible without Hinish clogging up the middle and demanding double teams.

Notre Dame beating itself

This week’s biggest worry is more related to Notre Dame beating itself than it is anything Wisconsin will or won’t do. Wisconsin is usually one of those teams that lets the opposition make the mistakes and win ugly. It didn’t work for them against Penn State when the Nittany Lions flipped the script on them, but historically that is what Wisconsin does. And this year, most of Notre Dame’s mistakes have been self-inflicted wounds. If the Irish play clean, I can’t see them losing this game.

What Doesn’t Worry Me This Week

Wisconsin’s passing attack

While Wisconsin’s rushing attack could be a significant concern for Notre Dame this weekend, the passing attack shouldn’t be. Wisconsin annoited Graham Mertz as their quarterback of the present and future last year after his 5 touchdown starting debut against Illinois. Since then, Mertz has just 4 touchdowns to 7 interceptions. He has not thrown a touchdown this season yet. And over his final four games of 2020, he threw just one touchdown. That’s one touchdown to 4 interceptions over his last six games.

In Wisconsin’s opening season loss to Penn State, Mertz completed less than 60% of his passes and tossed two interceptions without a score.

He hasn’t been much of a threat on the ground either. On ten attempts, Mertz has -31 yards rushing. That includes -30 yards coming off of 3 sacks, but that still leaves 7 attempts, -1 yard rushing.

Notre Dame’s wide receivers dropping the ball

Notre Dame receivers not named Avery Davis had a weekend to forget against Purdue. Kevin Austin had a few drops and wasn’t on the same page with Jack Coan all game. Braden Lenzy dropped one of the easiest touchdowns he’d ever have had after burning a poor Purdue defensive back that looked like he was running in mud compared to Lenzy.

I don’t expect that to be a problem for Notre Dame this weekend. Austin had the huge catch against Toledo and a big game against Florida State. Lenzy hasn’t entirely been unleashed this year, but something tells me you’ll see Lenzy on an end-around or sweep this week. I also expect Lenzy to get open behind the Badger secondary too. Whether or not he and Coan connect, I don’t know. If the ball is there, though, Austin and Lenzy will rebound this week.

Players to Watch This Week

  • Jordan Botelho – Brian Kelly said he will play on defense this weekend after only playing special teams last week. How he is deployed on 3rd downs will be interesting to watch.
  • Chris Tyree – He has been bottled up for the most part this year on the ground. Wouldn’t it be something if he ripped off a long run against the first stout run defense the Irish face all year?
  • Drew White – He has been quiet so far this year. This kind of feels like a Drew White kind of game though.
  • Tyler Buchner – Brian Kelly said Buchner should be ready to play this weekend. If he is, he will likely play a lot. For him to be truly effective against a better defense like Wisconsin, Notre Dame will have to let the kid sling it too.
  • Howard Cross – If Hinish isn’t able to go, Notre Dame is going to need Cross to have the game of his young career.
  • Houston Griffith – It’s Griffith’s hometown and players tend to have big games in their homecomings.
  • Joe Alt – Notre Dame used him as an extra blocker last week with success and might need him again this week to get the ground game going against one of the nation’s best run defenses.

Prediction Time

Many Notre Dame fans have looked at the struggles over the last few weeks for Notre Dame and ignored the flaws with this Wisconsin team. Yeah, they are much better than Toledo, but they aren’t Alabama, Clemson, or Ohio State. They are a pretty good team that has their own problems that they haven’t solved just yet, either. This could be a really sloppy game for both teams based on what we’ve seen so far. If Mertz was better so far this year, I could understand the 6.5 spread and Notre Dame fans’ concerns. He hasn’t, though, and for that reason, I see the Irish winning this one.

Notre Dame 28, Wisconsin 21

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  1. Wild endong to that Clemson-NC State game…and the fianl score is only part of it.
    After the game, fans rushed the field, and a few Clemosn players were still there, likely having had words or congrats for guys on NC State. Anyway, one of them wasn’t very happy havong to wade thru the euphoria, and as he was tpushing away people to open up room for him to sulk off, he looked right at one young female fan to his left and I swear he hocked a loogie right at her face !!
    It was really clear…the guy’s head even lurches forwrd as he spits. if you taped the game, just watch.
    Annoncers were yammering on and likely weren’t watching the feed.
    Quite disgusting….it might blow up in the next days.

  2. 28 points from 3 picks and a KO return. ND looked absolutely horrible with Coan running the offense. I’d prefer Buchner over Pyne moving forward . Both can create with their legs and escape the pass rush. Coan is a sitting duck and may not make it thru the season getting sacked at this rate. Make the move Kelly

    1. I thought Coan looked OK…much better than Mertz, and that was their trade. And It isn’t Coan’s fault the O-line is a seive.

  3. i wouldn’t get too excited notre dame gained a net 3 yards rushing and gave up six sacks. the final score reflects unusual plays that don’t happen every game. on the plus side the defense didn’t fade in the second half.

  4. Besides the running game still looking unspectacular because the OL isn’t doing its job, a much better showing today. I thought Drew did a nice job coming in when he did. Many years ago, I remember a guy named Montana who also came in a game and making a name for himself under similar conditions following an injury to the starting QB which elevated Montana in the rotation. Who knows what it may mean for Pyne. Hopefully the team can build on this win today to get even better.

      1. A good win given that ND was down a lot of starters and was down to third string QB. The D and STs really came through in the fourth quarter. 4-0 ain’t easy unless your Bama and even then the Tide needed breaks to beat UF. Ask Clemson how easy it is to go undefeated the first month of the season. Having said that this is a flawed team with a coach who by his own admission hasn’t won a title which is what ultimately counts!

      2. Don’t fall for Kelly’s fake self-awareness shtick. He’s a wealthy man who can go do TV whenever he decides. Not bad for a fraud.
        The only way that ‘statue’ spiel coames across as credible is from a coach who still believed he COULD still actually win a NC….and still had the drive and fire to put in the work to give it a real shot.
        Kelly is a checked out zombie.
        Two things I saw him do today: Win the toss / take the ball…3-and-out;
        and he got himself an idiotic 15-yarder for unsportsmanlike, when the game was still in doubt.
        Forget statues, Brian…try coaching.

    1. But Wisconsin is worse, mainly due to Mertz’ play. He’s plain awful.

      And Brian Kelly is Brian Kelly. It is a disgrace many previous ND coaches, that Kelly was given the chance to achieve this milestone. He is a fraud.

      1. Agreed. The coach that has won the most games but hasn’t won a natty and never will. Absolute Garbage

  5. Wisconsin hasnt thrown a touchdown pass this season. True only two games, still… And that includes one game against EMU. Really?! Wisconsin D is good, ND Defense is looking pretty good now too. ND has some monster performers on Defense. Defenses rule this game, ND looks more likely to have the offense that gets some action moving, Great running backs, great wideouts, Mike Mayer, and Coan playing his old team. When guys play their old team, they often have a great day. Id think pick em or ND edge.

    1. Running TDs are wirth the same as passing TDs.

      ND still stalls out in the red zone. In 2020 ranked 102nd in red-zone scoring (84th in TDs, ND’s worst showing since 2014). And Kelly has been working on that for about a decade now.

  6. i think the bubble bursts tomorrow. the offensive line is the real question mark. the defense hasn’t played well either.

    1. Wisconsin is not great, but sound. They protect the ball and limit mistakes.
      ND is completely unpredictable, and wastes O posessions thru random inattenttion: penalties, poor play calling, poor execution.

      Smart money likes safe and boring.

  7. NDs OL is too inconsistent in either blocking for the run or with pass protection for ND to not need big chunk plays to defeat WI. D’ pressure and limiting the success of WI short passing game and their ball control is key. ND needs to spread the field and let the pass open up the run. Without ND converting several big chunk plays through the air, and playing their best D’ so far in limiting WI rushing game, WI will cover the spread. Also, the week off (the first of many for ND opponents) allowing WI to get a couple of key players back and healthy might play out for WI.

    1. ND’s offense is …again…maddenligly predictable/uncreative, w slow-mo play development.
      Coan’s throwing acccuracy is a refreshing change, offest by his lack of running ability.
      But an exceptional defensive effort vs. the run appears to be best hope. And I doubt that.

    1. I’m curious to see Coan’s reaction eafrly. All the hype and extra-festive atmosphere to this game at Soldier Field, PLUS playing his former teammates….it could easily be a bit emotional for him, even overwhelming. We’ll see.

  8. The Ryder cup will be better entertainment than this match up. I think ill watch the golf instead. Not interested in watching Coan run the offense. Hand the keys off to Buchner and dont look back. Wisconsin wins easily 28-13.

    1. Dude, watching golf? Might as well schedule an appointment to pick out your burial plot.
      Texas Tech -Texas.
      No BS Peacock fee.
      That’s where I’m starting out.

  9. Wisconsin is slow trash. I don’t know why anyone thinks they are good. ND SHOULD be spanking them and any other big 10 team other than OSU.

  10. I couldn’t even begin to make a prediction for this game, but Frank is right, this game will tell us a lot about where ND is right now.

    Will last weeks improvements continue? If so I can see ND winning this game. Wisconsin isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire (though they are the best team we have faced thus far).

    Or are the first 2 games the real story in which case ND will lose this game? They can’t get away with any sloppiness this week.

    1. When you say Wisconsin ‘isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire’, that is an arm-waving and dismissive way to rationalize picking ND, despite knowing full well that ND isn’t very good itself.

      “…this game will tell us a lot about where ND is right now..”
      Why this game? Why not accept what the previous 3 games have already told you?

      1. I think I was pretty clear. I’m not making ANY predictions. I said ND will lose this game if they play like they did the first 2 games (and don’t continue to add to their improvements last week).

        But if ND continues to improve then they can beat Wisconsin. Wisconsin is no Alabama. They are beatable if ND does things right. I don’t think ND would have a shot against Alabama right now. But I do think they do against Wisconsin.

        They are a good litmus test because they are the toughest game so far. It’s probably the perfect team for ND to play right now to find out where they stand. Wisconsin is good enough to beat ND but they are still a team ND can beat if they play well. Lose and we’re probably looking at a 3 to 4 loss season. Win and it should be better as long as they don’t regress.

      2. Yes. If ND “plays better”, it might win.

        But then, using equal and objective “expectiations”, why couldn’t Wisconsin play better too?
        Especailly after an extra week to prepare, and hardened by a tough loss, to a much better Penn St. team than anyone ND has played.
        And notwithstanding ALL that….having already been playing better than ND anyway?

  11. “…but they aren’t Alabama, Clemson, or Ohio State.”

    Hopefully, they also aren’t any one of the other 8 or 10 teams that would whip ND like a rented mule.

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