It’s a matchup that we’ve been anticipating for years, and it’s finally here. Wisconsin-Notre Dame at Soldier Field. What a sight it will be. Wisconsin comes into the game 1-1 and off of a bye, looking for a huge win to bolster their resume. Notre Dame comes in 3-0 looking to prove their they are a legit player in the College Football Playoff runnings once again.
This will be a huge victory for both sides, so what does Wisconsin need to do to make sure they are the ones that bring home a victory? Let’s take a look.
On the two-hour drive down to Soldier Field, I’ll have Queen’s “Under Pressure” going on the stereo to try and manifest some Wisconsin sacks in this contest. Really though, getting pressure will be a huge key in this matchup. Notre Dame comes into this game 3-0, but they’ve been incredibly unsuccessful upfront.
Through three games the Fighting Irish have struggled to protect quarterback Jack Coan, allowing 4.7 sacks per game. That mark ranks No. 122 in the nation, which is highly unusual for a program that generally churns out incredibly impressive offensive lines on a yearly basis.
One might think these numbers are inflated by going against some dominating fronts but that has not been the case thus far. In Week 2, Toledo gave Notre Dame a scare, and in that contest the Irish gave up six sacks to the Rocket's defensive line. The following week, Toledo hosted Colorado State and did not register a single sack! Last week, Notre Dame allowed four sacks against Purdue. The week before, Purdue didn’t register a single sack against UCONN, the worst team in college football.
The fronts they are going against are nowhere near what Wisconsin has in terms of talent. If the Badgers want to win this game they have to continually exploit this struggling offensive line and get to Jack Coan early and often.
Win on third down
Oftentimes these types of games come down to a few key areas. Line play on both sides of the ball is usually one of them, and winning on third down is another big one. Coming into this game Wisconsin has been great about getting off the field defensively on third down. The Badgers are allowing a 3rd down conversion percentage of just 20.83, which is No. 4 in the nation.
Offensively though, Wisconsin is converting just 35% of their third downs which ranks No. 85 in the nation. Not a place you want to be. On the other sideline, Notre Dame is allowing third-down conversions 36% of the time defensively and converting just 37% of their third downs offensively, which ranks No. 72 in the nation.
Overall, neither offense has been particularly great at keeping the chains moving, but something will have to give here. Last week, winning on third down really seemed to be the difference for the Irish. Purdue won the time-of-possession battle, while only rushing for 57 yards, but the Irish ability to hold Purdue to just 4-of-16 on third-down conversions stalled multiple chances for the Boilermakers. If Wisconsin wants to come away with a victory, they’ll need to win the battle of third-down on not just one, but both sides of the football.
So far we’ve seen a very traditional style of play for Wisconsin. Keep it on the ground and melt the clock off the scoreboard. That style is fine if you’re converting third downs, and getting stops, but another phase of that is trying to play ahead or within a small margin.
So far, based on tempo, I am not sure Wisconsin is built to come from behind. Maybe that changes if I see it, but so far I have not.
Wisconsin will be in much better shape if they can get a lead here early, and put the pressure on Notre Dame to play from behind. The Irish have been down in some moments this year, but not often. I would like to see how this team plays when they have to come back from a score or two.
Coan is a good quarterback, but we’ve seen in his time at Wisconsin that playing from behind doesn’t work well. Neither side has the explosiveness to do so. I think it’s imperative that Wisconsin get an early lead and try to win this game via the vice grip and slowly backing the Irish into a corner. Neither team is suited to play from behind, so I think this will be a big key in this type of environment where nerves and jitters will certainly be a factor.