Notre Dame Football Primer: #12 Irish face #18 Wisconsin at Soldier Field

Notre Dame will look to improve to 4-0 as they face their first ranked opponent of the season, the Wisconsin Badgers.

The Fighting Irish are coming off their best performance of the year, with a two-touchdown victory over rival Purdue. Though the Irish are improving, there is still considerable work to be done on both sides of the ball. Wisconsin is fresh off a bye-week and favored in this monumental matchup. Thus, the stage is set as Brian Kelly and Paul Chryst square off in a highly anticipated neutral site game in Chicago.

Essential Game Info:

  • Game Time: Saturday, September 25th at 12:00 PM ET on FOX
  • Location: Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois
  • Matchup History: The Irish are 8-6-2 all-time against the Wisconsin Badgers (Last Meeting 1964: Notre Dame won 31 to 7)
  • Current Odds: Wisconsin -5.5

Weather Forecast

The current forecast for GameDay shows a 6% chance of rain with a high of 69 degrees and a low of 56.

Wisconsin Details:

  • Conference: Big Ten (West Division)
  • Head Coach: Paul Chryst
  • 2021 Record: 1-1 (0-1)
  • 2020 Record: 4-3 (3-3)

Wisconsin Storylines

First Meeting between Badges and Irish since 1964. It has been a long time since Notre Dame and Wisconsin have clashed on the gridiron and an even longer span since they met at Soldier Field. The Fighting Irish and Badgers have met 16 times, and even once in Chicago back in 1929.

This will be the second straight week a school from the Big Ten West Division faces the Fighting Irish.

Graham Mertz faces former Wisconsin Quarterback Jack Coan. This will be the most intriguing storyline of the matchup. Last year, it was Ian Book and Notre Dame transfer Phil Jurkovec. Now the Irish are the program led by a transfer quarterback. Mertz is 36 for 54 (67%) with 0 touchdowns and 2 interceptions through two games.

Wisconsin’s quarterback is more of a pocket passer like Coan. Graham Mertz has 10 rushes for -31 yards this season (sacks included).

Key Badger Players. The rushing attack is led by running back Chez Mellusi, who has 51 attempts for 265 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and 2 touchdowns. The leading receivers for Wisconsin are Danny Davis III and Jake Ferguson. Davis III has 11 receptions for 129, while Ferguson has 12 catches that total 69 yards.

Notre Dame Storylines

The Fighting Irish are 3-0 but face a significant test in Chicago. Each week it seems as though Brian Kelly faces a challenge greater than the week prior. Wisconsin is eager to redeem themselves after a tough 6-point loss to #6 Penn State (current ranking). The Badgers will match Notre Dame’s physicality perhaps better than anyone remaining on the schedule.

If the Irish want to get back into the College Football Playoff picture, it starts this weekend. But they must play their best football of the season on Saturday.

Coan and the receivers missed several opportunities last week. The Irish must convert more deep throws for the 2021 offense to get to the next level, especially when the receivers are wide open. Yes, the Notre Dame Quarterback hit several good passes, but there were also several overthrows against Purdue.

Along with overthrows, there were a few dropped passes that would have broken the game open. As the offensive line is developing, the Irish Offense needs to convert on more deep-ball opportunities.

Notre Dame Defense looked terrific against the Boilermakers. Jeff Brohm is a tremendous offensive mind, and he had one of the nation’s best wide receivers in David Bell. Besides the sole touchdown drive early in the second half, the defense absolutely dominated Purdue, even when the defense started with poor field position.

The Boilermakers implemented the air raid offense last week, but in this matchup, the Badgers will be more physical and looking to run the football.

Head-to-Head Matchups

Notre Dame Offense vs. Wisconsin Defense: Tommy Rees figured out a few things last week against the Purdue Boilermakers. The running game is improving gradually, but Jack Coan’s limited ability to run has hindered the Irish Offense. The key in this matchup will be the downfield passing attack and converting big plays.

The sample size for Wisconsin is small, which makes me wonder how they are a big favorite in this showdown. Nevertheless, they held Penn State to 16-points and Eastern Michigan to 7-points. Thus, this matchup is a tie.

Advantage: Tie

Wisconsin Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense: Marcus Freeman had his best coaching performance last week against the Boilermakers. The Irish only allowed 13-points, from two field goals and a touchdown. The Wisconsin Badgers will present a more physical style of offense than the Irish saw last week, but Notre Dame still has the advantage in this battle.

Advantage: Notre Dame

Special Teams: The Wisconsin kicking game is headlined by Collin Larsh, who is 3 for 4 on the season with a long of 43-yards. At the same time, Jonathan Doerer is 5 for 7 with a long of 48-yards.

Kyren Williams had a great punt return last week that helped set up his game-clinching run against Purdue in the 4th quarter. His punt returning skills could play a factor on Saturday.

There is no distinct advantage in this matchup.

Advantage: Tie

My Prediction

Yes, Notre Dame has struggled early in the season, but so have several other teams across the country like the #4 Oklahoma Sooners (Tulane and Nebraska). I’m not sure why Wisconsin is highly favored; they did not do anything significant last year or this year to earn it. But the Irish can thank the media and their 3-point victories for this underdog role.

Notre Dame must force Wisconsin to respect the rushing attack and convert a few throws downfield. If the Irish miss out on open receivers like they did several times against Purdue, it will cost them in this matchup.

With that being said, the Notre Dame Defense looked fantastic last week. If Tommy Rees and the offense can continue to build off the last three weeks, I believe the Irish will win the biggest matchup of the weekend.

Prediction: Notre Dame 31 Wisconsin 24

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4 Comments

  1. Here’s the rankings problem (eg. using the AP)……
    Say 18 Wiscy thumps 12 ND resoundingly. The rankings would then put W ahead of ND. Fine.
    But they’d do it thru a combo of rewarding W and punishing ND.
    So my best guess is Wiscy goes up 3 spots to 15, and ND drops 4 spots to 16.

    But in the *real* world, ND will have then played 4 games — almost half the season! —-and looked like garbage in every one of them.
    Yet STILL solidly in the Top 20, due entirely to being grossly over-ranked in the pre-season.

    It’s this insidious quirk, the annual over-selling of ND for money, that keeps ND fans chronically delusional late into the season…..and helps keep Brian Kelly over-employed.

  2. I suspect ND’s O-Line issues will continue against a typically strong WI front seven. That being said, Coan and the receivers will need to be extra sharp. I will not be surprised to see a heavier dose of Buchner unless Coan and the hands guys are rolling and putting points on the board.

  3. I suspect the reason Wisconsin is more favored has more to do with ND’s struggles so far. Despite some improvements against Purdue, the media isn’t going to quickly forget their struggles against FSU (who have since lost to an FCS team) and Toledo (never good to struggle against a MAC team).

    Still, I’d rather go in as an underdog and play the spoiler, rather than the reverse. I honestly don’t know how this game will play out. Was last week’s improvement just a blip, or was it the start of a turnaround. This week will tell us a lot.

    1. I think its because objective people, after seeing them both play, believe Wisconsin is better, and therefore more likely to win.

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