Notre Dame entered the fourth quarter of today’s contest with Wisconsin trailing. However, they ended the game on the right side of a 41-13 blowout. One of the most lopsided fourth quarters in recent Notre Dame history propelled the Irish to their fourth win of the season even though they lost another starter in the process – this time quarterback Jack Coan. The win keeps the Irish undefeated on the season with everything left to play for.
It was looking bleak there for a while
Heading into the fourth quarter, things didn’t look good for Notre Dame. If I am being honest, I was losing hope fast. If I am being totally honest, maybe I lost hope altogether. Notre Dame was down to its third LT, its third QB, and struggling to do anything offensively. They had just lost the lead but even that three-point deficit felt like much more than three points.
Then it all changed on the ensuing kickoff. Chris Tyree took it the distance for the first kick return for a touchdown in five years for Notre Dame (shout out CJ Sanders After that, the defense turned into a turnover machine forcing a fumble of Graham Mertz and then intercepting him three times (on top of an earlier interception), returning two for touchdowns.
There have been other fourth quarters in Notre Dame history where the Irish’s fortunes changed so much, so fast, but there aren’t a lot of them and I’m having a hard time remembering them. The 2012 Oklahoma game was similar but that game never felt like the tide had turned like it today. Truly a remarkable fourth quarter and a testament to this team’s resolve.
Notre Dame’s defensive line is one of nation’s best
Notre Dame’s defensive line was at its best on Saturday. They only registered one sack on the day after starting the season on a torrid pace, but playing without starting NT Kurt Hinish, the defensive line barely missed a bit. Howard Cross and Jacob Lacey both filled in for Hinish and played well.
Jayson Ademilola was a problem for Wisconsin all game and came up with the defensive play that really turned things. With Notre Dame up just four at the time, Ademilola recorded a strip-sack of Mertz that Isaiah Foskey recovered.
Jordan Botelho played his first game of the year on defense after only playing special teams last week and he showed why there was so much buzz about him over the summer. Look for Botelho to have an even bigger impact next weekend against Cincinnati.
This defensive line is deep and it is talented. Both of those elements were on full display against a Wisconsin rushing offense that totaled just 78 yards on the day on 28 attempts.
We’re seeing the good parts of Marcus Freeman’s defense
Over the first two weeks of the season, the Marcus Freeman defense showed signs of growing pains. The 18-point fourth quarter to Florida State. The back-to-back touchdowns at the end of the Toledo game. Neither was ideal. Last week though, the defense looked like it started to turn a corner by shutting down Purdue. This week was to let us know if that performance was a product of Notre Dame improving or Purdue just being bad. Well, Wisconsin isn’t great, but the Notre Dame defense might just be.
The fourth quarter of today’s game will be talked about for a while. Three interceptions, a fumble recovery, and two defensive touchdowns. That’s a good game. That’s a good two-game stretch. That happened in less than 15 minutes on Saturday afternoon in Soldier Field.
Over the first two weeks, it felt like Marcus Freeman was calling the kind of defense he wanted to call instead of what his personnel was best suited for. But, the last two weeks, Freeman’s adjusted his gameplans, and the results speak for themselves.
Graham Mertz is just a tad bit over-rated
For as good as Notre Dame’s defense looked, the elephant in the room was that Graham Mertz just isn’t anywhere nearly as good as Wisconsin fans hoped he’d be or thought he was. Mertz did finally throw his first touchdown pass of the season today, but he also threw four interceptions on the day. That’s 1 TD and 6 INTs for Mertz on the season.
When Notre Dame’s defense is humming like it was today, it’s going to make a lot of quarterbacks look bad. It’s going to make a lot of bad quarterbacks look borderline unplayable like it did with Mertz today.
As an outside observer, it feels like Wisconsin is forcing it with Mertz because he was highly rated, and they don’t land highly-rated quarterbacks that often. Of course, it was still just his 10th career start, but his start to the season can’t be instilling much hope in Madison.
Not sure what Notre Dame does Offensive Line at this point
Amid all the good of the 4th quarter and craziness with the pick-sixes and special teams touchdowns, there is a reason it looked pretty bleak after the third quarter. Notre Dame’s offensive line was once again shaky, to say the least. Wisconsin totaled six sacks on the day though not all of them were the offensive line’s fault.
Notre Dame ran the ball for 3 yards total. That is not going to win a lot of games – especially against ranked teams on the road. It worked today, but there will be a time shortly that Notre Dame will need its offense to put up more points than they did today. Of the 41 scored by the Irish, 21 were either special teams or defensive touchdowns.
Notre Dame played without Michael Carmody again today, but the continuity of the same starting lineup in back-to-back games didn’t help that much. After four games, the line is what it is and likely will not magically get much better.
Notre Dame needs to look at the quarterback position
It’s a shame that Coan’s “homecoming” against his former team was ruined by the injury he suffered, but Drew Pyne showed something in limited action. Other than Pyne’s fumble when Tosh Baker essentially let a free blitzer to Pyne’s blindside, the offensive line actually looked a little better with Pyne. His pocket presence was impressive given his lack of playing time heading into today. There were times he stood in a pocket that felt like it was collapsing without panicking.
Part of the problems with the offensive line is a result of the quarterback play. Jack Coan has taken sacks he hasn’t had to by holding onto the ball too long or bailing on pockets before he needed to. Pyne showed better escapability and pocket presence in a minimal sample size.
Brian Kelly said after the game that Coan is Notre Dame’s quarterback, but when Buchner is back, Notre Dame might be forced to look closer at the position soon. When Coan has time, he’s been very good at times. His touchdown to Kevin Austin was a prime example of that. The problem is Coan doesn’t have clean pockets all the time, and his lack of mobility limits this offense.
Wisconsin was not as good as you were led to believe
It was a bizarre lead up to this game. Wisconsin was not a great team coming into this weekend and looks even less like one now. You wouldn’t have known that, though, from Twitter, podcasts, and reading a lot of articles last week. For some reason, though, the Badgers were made out to be some sort of immovable force for Notre Dame. They never were, and that much is evident now.
Even when Notre Dame’s offense was scuffling through three quarters, the defense was shutting down Wisconsin because the Badger offense isn’t very good. We learned that Notre Dame’s isn’t a whole lot better right now either, but the idea that this game was some sort of elite team wasn’t true then and isn’t now. We went pretty in-depth on this on the preview podcast on Friday, but it still surprised me on Friday how many Notre Dame writers actually picked Wisconsin in this one.