Despite Offensive Line Woes and Coan Injury, Irish Prevail
On a day in which Brian Kelly passed Knute Rockne as the all-time wins leader Notre Dame Football history with the Irish’s 41-13 victory over #15 Wisconsin Badgers, one would assume the major storyline of the day would center around him. And in a roundabout way it does. Kelly’s coaching career at Notre Dame has been characterized by many things but adaptability should be near the top of the list. Therefore, I could think of no better game for Kelly to achieve such a milestone than with a game filled with as much adversity as today.
The adversity hit early and often for Notre Dame on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at Soldier Field. After a quick three and out for the Irish offense to open the game, Wisconsin began their first possession of the day at the Irish 46-yard line. Wasting little time, the Badgers quickly moved 29 yards in 5 plays and took an early 3-0 advantage on a 37-yard field goal. Notre Dame responded in turn with a 15 play, 59-yard drive that chewed up nearly 7 minutes on the game clock, only to see the drive end in disaster when Jonathan Doerer badly missed a 39-yard field goal attempt. After the initial fireworks, both teams settled into the game and prepared for what appeared would be a defensive slugfest. The Irish continued their week-by-week improvement under the direction of Marcus Freeman. Throughout the day, the Irish were able to hold the vaunted Wisconsin running attack to a 2.8 yards per rush average on 28 attempts, thus putting pressure on Graham Mertz to deliver for the Badgers. Time and time again the Badgers attempted to get their run game going, only to find themselves in a 3rd and long situation. On the day, Notre Dame held Wisconsin to 1/14 on 3rd down conversions.
With the Badger offense stuck in neutral, Notre Dame was able to even the score at 3 after Jack Coan directed another time-consuming drive. Using 16 plays to cover 45 yards and eat up 6:29 on the game clock, Jonathan Doerer atoned for his earlier miss by knocking a 51-yard field goal through the uprights. Cam Hart added the first of his two interceptions on the day during the ensuing Badger drive, giving the ball back to Coan and the offense at the Irish 49-yard line. Facing a 2nd and 9 at the Badger 36-yard line, Coan lofted an absolute beauty of a ball to Kevin Austin in the left corner of the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown pass to give Notre Dame its first lead of the day at 10-3 with 4:48 left in the half. With neither offense gaining much traction the rest of the half, Notre Dame entered halftime with a precarious 10-3 lead. Despite the lead, Notre Dame dealt with a variety of issues in the first half, namely the porous offensive line. Coan was under constant duress throughout the first 30 minutes of play. Tosh Baker was replaced throughout the half with freshman Joe Alt at left tackle. Furthermore, the Irish running game remained ineffective due to the poor play upfront. Overall, Coan played fairly well and could have had an even bigger day if he were afforded the proper protection to read the field and distribute the ball to his playmakers on the edge.
The 3rd quarter began with an exchange of punts between the teams. On Wisconsin’s second drive of the half, the Badgers capitalized on a 35-yard shovel pass to Chez Mellusi to quickly move into the red zone. Mertz hit Kendric Pryor two times in three plays on an identical slant route, the second of which resulted in an 8-yard touchdown reception for Pryor as the Badgers knotted the score at 10. Notre Dame failed to generate any momentum on its next possession, resulting in a three and out. Notably, Jack Coan suffered an ankle injury during the possession which forced him from the game. After a quick three and out by Wisconsin, Drew Pyne entered the contest for the Irish as Tyler Buchner remained sidelined from a hamstring injury suffered last week against Purdue. Pyne displayed a bit of moxie and was able to help the offense move the ball from its own 23-yard line to the Badger 39-yard line before the drive stalled. Thankfully, the Irish defense continued its stellar play on the day and quickly forced another three and out. However, disaster struck on the ensuing Irish possession. Taking over on the Wisconsin 48-yard line, Pyne was hit from his blindside on the first play of the drive, resulting in a fumble that Wisconsin recovered on the Irish 39-yard line. The Badgers methodically moved into the red zone, as the momentum of the game appeared to be shifting heavily in Wisconsin’s favor. Yet, Freeman’s unit came through as they had all day and forced a 27-yard field goal by Wisconsin.
With the game standing at 13-10 in favor of Wisconsin with the 4th quarter just underway, Chris Tyree provided a major jolt on special teams. Fielding the ball at the 4-yard line, Tyree cut left across the field and hit a seam, sprinting to a 96-yard kickoff return, energizing the Irish faithful in the stands, and giving Notre Dame a 17-13 lead. With the Badgers facing a crucial 3rd and 11 on the next possession, Jayson Ademilola forced a strip-sack of Mertz, which was recovered by Isaiah Foskey at the Wisconsin 46-yard line. Pyne calmly directed the Irish on a 6 play, 46-yard drive, culminating in a 16-yard strike to Kevin Austin to push the Irish lead to 24-13. Wisconsin’s parade of miscues continued with a missed 52-yard field goal on their next possession. With a little under 8 minutes to go in the game, Notre Dame exploded for 17 more points thanks to three Graham Mertz interceptions. Cam Hart began the fun with a 32-yard interception return that led to a Doerer 37-yard field goal. On the next possession, Jack Kiser undercut a route and returned his interception 66 yards for a touchdown. Drew White capped the scoring with a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown to put the punctuation on Notre Dame’s victory over Wisconsin in their first meeting since 1964.
-Chris Tyree- 6 rushing yards, 6 receiving yards, 96-yard kickoff return
-Kevin Austin-6 receptions, 72 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns
-Drew Pyne-6/8 on pass attempts, 81 passing yards, 1 touchdown
-Cam Hart- 2 interceptions
-Jayson Ademilola- 5 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss, 1 fumble
-Jay Bramblett- Bramblett averaged 46.3 yards on his 7 punts and helped provide a decisive advantage in field position
Crazy Stat of the Day
-Notre Dame became the first team since 2000 to finish with fewer than 10 rushing yards (3) and win a game by 28+ points
Questions Moving Forward
-Who will be under center next week against #8 Cincinnati?
-What, if anything, can be done to improve the offensive line play?
– What is the ceiling for this team?