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Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Jack Coan (17). (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)
September 24th, 2021
The No. 12 Notre Dame Fighting Irish and No. 18 Wisconsin Badgers will clash inside Soldier Field at noon ET on Saturday, in their first meeting since 1964.
The Irish will look to add to their 8-6-2 lead in the series and hand Brian Kelly a record-setting 106th win as head coach. Kelly tied legendary Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne for most victories in program history with Notre Dame's 27-13 triumph over Purdue last weekend.
In spite of their 3-0 start, the Irish have been far from a difficult out this season.
They required overtime to outlast a poor Florida State team, narrowly beat Toledo in Week 2, and needed a pair of fourth-quarter scores to break away from Purdue.
The defense has struggled to stop the run — which will cause headaches against Wisconsin's top 10 rushing attack — and its offensive line has allowed 4.7 sacks per contest.
The time of possession battle is another concern for Notre Dame. The Irish rank 83rd in time of possession (28:46), compared to Wisconsin's 41:27 ToP, which is best in college football.
Where the Irish have excelled is in the red zone (100% scoring percentage), and creating takeaways (two per game). Wisconsin, on the other hand, has recorded just one takeaway across its two games, and quarterback Graham Mertz can be turnover-prone.
PSA to all College QBs, stop throwing in the direction of @kham316 #NDvsPurdue @NDFootball https://t.co/xo68yTLnrZ— Brady Quinn (@Brady_Quinn) September 18, 2021
PSA to all College QBs, stop throwing in the direction of @kham316 #NDvsPurdue @NDFootball https://t.co/xo68yTLnrZ
The Badgers are 0-4 in games where Mertz records an interception.
Mertz's predecessor at Wisconsin, Jack Coan, will be under center for the Irish. Coan has thrown for 828 yards and eight touchdown passes in three games for his new team.
While Mertz has been shaky in the passing game, the Wisconsin rushing attack is one of the best in college.
The Badgers run the ball on 65.32% of plays and average 263 yards per game (10th most in the FBS).
Junior Chez Mellusi has been a star in the ground game, with 121 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries in a 16-10 loss to No. 6 Penn State, and another 144 yards and a score on 20 attempts against Eastern Michigan.
The Badgers bow to no one! 🦡Wisconsin evens things up at 7-7 against Penn State (+6) in the third quarter.Chez Mellusi anytime TD (-167) 💵#WeAre | #OnWisconsin pic.twitter.com/ezklPd26LF— TwinSpires Sportsbook 💵 (@TS_Sportsbook) September 4, 2021
The Badgers bow to no one! 🦡Wisconsin evens things up at 7-7 against Penn State (+6) in the third quarter.Chez Mellusi anytime TD (-167) 💵#WeAre | #OnWisconsin pic.twitter.com/ezklPd26LF
Wisconsin is just as good at stopping the run, and ranks second in rushing yards allowed per game (33).
On the contrary, Notre Dame has surrendered 148.3 yards per contest, good for 69th in the nation.
Where Wisconsin's defense is weak is in the secondary. In the team's Week 1 loss to Penn State, the stop unit held the Nittany Lions to 43 yards in the first half, but let quarterback Sean Clifford pass for 206 of his 247 yards in the second half.
That breakdown on defense could spell trouble against Notre Dame, considering Coan threw touchdown passes of 39, 51, and 62 yards last week against Purdue.
If Coan can put up a few of those passes against Wisconsin's secondary, Notre Dame has a chance to pull off a win against a team that is 0-6 in its last six games against ranked opponents.
Mertz and the Wisconsin passing game are a concern against Notre Dame's secondary, led by standout safety Kyle Hamilton (21 total tackles, three interceptions).
Mertz was intercepted twice on his final two drives of the game against Penn State, and one of those picks occurred at Penn State's eight-yard line. If he can play a clean game and let the Wisconsin run game do the brunt of the work, the Badgers should come away with a win.
The team's familiarity with Coan will also work to Wisconsin's advantage and help the school beat a ranked opponent for the first time since it defeated then-No. 9 Minnesota in 2019.
Score prediction: Wisconsin 24, Notre Dame 20
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