Final thoughts (and a prediction) for Wisconsin-Notre Dame
Due to recent events, Saturday’s showdown between No. 12 Notre Dame and No. 18 Wisconsin is being viewed by most as the Jack Coan Classic.
Coan, a former Badgers quarterback who missed 2020 due to injury and transferred to Notre Dame this spring, has the Fighting Irish off to a 3-0 start. And Coan is largely responsible for Notre Dame avoiding potential losses to both Florida State and Toledo, averaging 276 passing yards per game to go along with 8 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
But we should not forget that the Wisconsin-Notre Dame matchup is actually Barry Alvarez’s baby.
Alvarez was Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator when he was hired to take over a moribund Wisconsin program in 1990. Nothing has been the same in Madison ever since, as the Badgers have been a perennial Big Ten power since Alvarez led them to the Rose Bowl in 1993.
Alvarez said he has been trying to get Notre Dame on Wisconsin’s schedule going all the way back to his time as a coach — he moved from the sidelines to the athletic director’s office in 2005 — and now it’s finally here. (The teams were supposed to play at Lambeau Field last season before it was canceled by COVID-19 and rescheduled for 2026).
Here is what we can expect to see in what will be the first meeting between Wisconsin and Notre Dame since 1964:
By the numbers, the Fighting Irish have the edge at quarterback.
In 2019, Coan was the ranked 3rd in the B1G in passer rating (151.8) behind only Ohio State’s Justin Fields and Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan. This year he’s 38th nationally with a 155.5 rating through 3 games.
In his 2 years as Wisconsin’s starter, Graham Mertz is mediocre at best. He was the Big Ten’s median quarterback last season, finishing 7th with a 125.2 passer rating. In 2 games this season, he’s 12th in the league with a 110 rating.
But Coan’s edge as a passer will be mitigated if he spends the majority of the game on his backside.
Notre Dame is abysmal in pass protection, ranking 125th nationally with 14 sacks allowed. Badgers senior defensive end Matt Henningsen and senior linebackers Jack Sanborn and Noah Burks are all capable of making life difficult on their former teammate with their pass rush.
The door swings both ways
Notre Dame compensates for its offensive line’s shortcomings by creating chaos in opposing backfields.
The Fighting Irish are 5th nationally with 13 sacks. Junior defensive end Isaiah Foskey has been a nightmare for everyone he’s faced, recording a sack in every game this season. Fellow end Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa — cousin of Tua and Taulia — is also extremely disruptive with 3.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 3 QB hurries and a forced fumble.
Wisconsin’s O-line will likely need to fare better than it did against Penn State. The Nittany Lions had 6 TFL and 2 sacks in their 16-10 win at Camp Randall.
Don’t get massacred by Michael Mayer
With Kyle Pitts now in the NFL, the mantle of top tight end in college football likely goes to towering 6-foot-5, 251-pound Notre Dame sophomore Michael Mayer.
Despite ranking 3rd among tight ends nationally with 5.7 receptions per game and leading the position with 3 touchdowns, you could argue he’s also underutilized as a receiver. That’s because he sometimes has to help with Notre Dame’s thus-far leaky blocking.
The more Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard can create pressure that turns Mayer into a blocker, the better for the Badgers.
Find explosive plays
Explosive plays are not Wisconsin’s offensive modus operandi.
Last year the Badgers were 95th nationally in plays over 10 yards, 118th in plays over 20 yards, 119th in plays over 30 yards and 111th in plays over 40 yards. Yet if there were ever an opportunity for Paul Chryst’s offense to snap out of that funk, this is it. The Irish are getting torched with long plays this season.
Notre Dame is 71st in plays allowed over 10 yards (38), 79th in plays allowed over 20 yards (14), 74th in plays allowed over 30 yards (6) and 120th in plays allowed over 50 yards (4).
Much to Wisconsin’s advantage, most of Notre Dame’s difficulty comes in stopping the run. The Irish are 92nd in the nation with an average of 4.3 yards allowed per carry.
Opportunities should abound for running backs Chez Mellusi and Isaac Guerendo to wreak some havoc for Wisconsin.
A prediction: Notre Dame 26, Wisconsin 23
It all comes back to Coan.
This should be a fairly even matchup, and when that’s the case, I defer to the better quarterback as more likely to be the difference-maker in the 4th quarter.
Coan could have gone anywhere this spring after deciding to leave Wisconsin. And yes, Notre Dame was always a logical destination because he originally committed to play lacrosse for the Fighting Irish. But when a guy intentionally picks a school that has his former team on the schedule, that tells me it’s personal.
And given the way he’s played this season, I’m taking Jack Coan with a grudge over a Wisconsin team that has yet to show us anything special this year.