Early signs of the Shamrock Series game played between the No. 18 Wisconsin Badgers (1-2 overall, 0-1 Big Ten) and the No. 12 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (4-0 overall), appeared to indicate we were in for a tightly contested game. However, those signs disappeared quickly as Notre Dame crushed Wisconsin 41-13 with a flurry of fourth quarter scores.
While Wisconsin’s offense was unable to put up a strong showing, the Badgers defense had a strong game against the ranked Fighting Irish. The Badger defense had six sacks in the game, led by Nick Herbig who had two of his own. Of the six sacks, five of which came against former Badger quarterback Jack Coan who is in his first season under center for the Fighting Irish.
The other sack in the game, was a strip-sack by Rodas Johnson, which setup a Collin Larsh field goal. Larsh was 2-of-3 on field goals in the game, connecting from 27 and 37 yards, while missing from 52.
While Notre Dame was able to put up 41 points in the game, the Badger defense only allowed two touchdowns and two field goals to the Irish, who prior to the game had been averaging 33 points per game on the season. Wisconsin held the Irish offense to six three-and-outs in the game and 242 total yards, including only three total rushing yards.
Leo Chenal, who made his season debut after missing the first two games with COVID, led the way with eight tackes (six solo). Faion Hicks added five solo tackles and a career-high four pass breaks ups.
While the Badgers defense was stifling the Irish rushing attack, Notre Dame leaned heavily on the passing game. Coan, who started the game was 15-of-29 for 158 yards and a touchdown in his matchup with his former team.
However, Coan was unable to return to the game in the second half and Notre Dame was forced to turn to its third-string quarterback, Drew Pyne, who was 6-of-8 for 81 yards and a passing touchdown, as backup Tyler Buchner was nursing a hamstring injury.
In relief, Pyne started off slow offensively, but was able to put the game out of reach late in the second half following a Chris Tyree 96-yard kick off return for a touchdown, which put Notre Dame up for good. The kick return touchdown, came immediately after Wisconsin had taken a 13-10 lead in the game and proved to be the dagger, as Wisconsin was unable to score again.
With the lead in hand, Pyne led Notre Dame on two scoring drives one of which ended with a passing touchdown to Kevin Austin Jr, who caught Coan’s touchdown pass in the first half. Austin had six receptions for 76 yards in the game, including the two scores.
With the game firmly in its grasp, Notre Dame added two defensive touchdowns, off of Graham Mertz interceptions, a 68-yard return by Jack Kiser and a 45-yard return by Drew White. White’s touchdown, capped off a 31-0 run by Notre Dame to finish the game.
Mertz, who threw his first touchdown pass of the season, when he connected with Kendric Pryor early in the second half for a score, struggled once again to find any sort of rhythm within the Wisconsin offense. Mertz finished 18-41 for 241 yards, one passing touchdown and four interceptions, bringing his season total to six interceptions. Mertz also fumbled twice, losing one of them. Overall, Mertz’s turnovers led to 31 of Notre’s 41 points.
The strength of Wisconsin’s offense this season, the running game, never quite established itself either against the Fighting Irish. Chez Mellusi, who opened the season with back-to-back 100-yard games for the Badgers, managed only 54 yards on 18 carries.
Jalen Berger who re-emerged against Eastern Michigan with 15 carries and a touchdown, managed only one carry against Notre Dame, which went for eight yards. He also added one receptions for eight yards as well.
Pryor, who scored Wisconsin’s only touchdown of the game, had six receptions for 69 yards. Pryor’s receiving touchdown was his first since the 2018 New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
Wisconsin will resume Big Ten play next weekend when it hosts Michigan, who won their first three games of the season against non-conference opponents and is, as of typing this sentence, currently defeating Rutgers 17-3.