Bouncing back from a shaky third quarter, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish closed out the September portion of their schedule with a rousing 41-10 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers. The Irish trailed 13-10 in the first minute of the fourth quarter, but Chris Tyree‘s 96 kickoff runback injected the momentum they needed to pick up the win.
Tyree’s runback was followed by the Irish forcing four turnovers that were converted into 24 points to turn what had been a tightly contested matchup into a blowout. The win was a historic victory for Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, who passed the iconic Knute Rockne for most wins at Notre Dame. Kelly received the obligatory Gatorade bath in the game’s closing moments, then began focusing on the challenges that lay ahead.
Below are some of the key aspects of the Notre Dame victory:
Taking to the Air
Notre Dame’s running game was non-existent on the afternoon, with the Irish collecting a meager total of three yards net on 32 carries. That final amount was obviously a byproduct of Wisconsin’s six sacks, but even Kyren Williams was shut down with just 33 yards on 18 carries, gaining just seven yards on his longest carry. With the weather inevitably getting worse over the next few months, maintaining a consistent running game is paramount to any postseason hopes. That’s especially true, considering that the Irish’s previous two games have given a clear indication that they have the talent available to deliver on the ground.
Getting Defensive About It
During the first half, Notre Dame largely held Wisconsin’s offense in check and allowed just three points during that span. Cam Hart’s interception near midfield then helped set a go-ahead touchdown for the Irish before halftime. However, after the break, Wisconsin had momentum and held a 13-10 advantage early in the final quarter. After then regaining the lead, the Irish used Jayson Ademilola’s forced fumble to boost their advantage to 24-13. After adding another field goal with 3:10 left, the Notre Dame defense gave a final one-two shot with consecutive pick-sixes.
Third Down Clamp Down
Besides the two interception returns for scores to cap the game and holding Wisconsin to a single touchdown, the most notable figure for Notre Dame defenders was the woeful one-for-16 success rate for the Badgers on third down. Wisconsin was blanked in this category until midway through the third quarter, but the momentum soon dangerously shifted in their direction. This effort follows Purdue’s four-for-16 performance in this department last week and gives the appearance of a talented defense that’s rounding into shape.
The More (Quarterbacks) the Merrier
Prior to this game, there had been some debate regarding whether Jack Coan or Tyler Buchner should be running the Notre Dame offense. With Buchner out due to hamstring issues, a third-quarter injury to Coan resulted in Drew Pyne being inserted into the quarterback slot. Pyne proceeded to deliver an impressive relief performance by completing six of eight for 81 yards and connecting with Kevin Austin for a 16-yard touchdown pass. His fumble that set up Wisconsin’s go-ahead field goal can be forgiven since he took a rough blindside shot in coughing up the ball.
The woes of Notre Dame’s offensive line continue to cast a shadow on the team’s solid start, a fly in the ointment that could come back to haunt them in the weeks ahead. Against Wisconsin, Coan was sacked on five occasions, with his last one sending from the game after a crush of Badgers engulfed him and injured his leg. Pyne’s entry into the game started positively, but it was Wisconsin’s final sack, the aforementioned blindside that made things temporarily dicey for the Irish. Entering this season, the line had already been a question mark due to the key departures. Yet, with one-third of the season already completed, getting problems smoothed out is still a work in progress. A clear indication of just how bad the situation is can be seen in the fact that Notre Dame has already allowed 20 sacks. In their 12 games last year, they gave up just 25.
Notre Dame will host the high-powered Cincinnati Bearcats next Saturday, marking the first meeting between the two schools since October 26, 1900. In that ancient time, which predates even the Rockne era, the Irish won in a 58-0 rout. For Irish head coach Brian Kelly, it will be the first time coaching against the program he came from in 2010. His main goal in this upcoming contest will be finding a way to slow down a Bearcats team that’s averaging 43 points a game.