The Wisconsin Badgers could’ve guaranteed themselves an easy win by scheduling another weak non-conference opponent, but instead they’re getting ready for a challenging game against Notre Dame on Saturday at Soldier Field to get the college football Saturday started with a bang. It would be nice if this was the start of a home-and-home series on campus, but let’s just be thankful we’re not looking forward to another early-season college football game that features a 30-point spread.

Fans will complain about the noon ET kickoff time for such an important matchup, but I remain an advocate of FOX’s Big Noon Saturday. We’re only allowed 13 Saturdays with a full regular season slate of college football games per year, and America should not have to wait till 3:30 p.m. ET every week for the first interesting game of the day.

The Badgers are favored in this game, and they need a win because falling to 1-2 with an improved Michigan team coming to town the following week is not the position you want to be in with the expectations Wisconsin sets for itself. Even though the experts expect a Wisconsin victory, plenty has to go right for that to come true.

Here are 3 keys to Wisconsin leaving Chicago with a win.

Limit the Notre Dame passing attack

Wisconsin’s front seven is the team’s biggest strength, while the top weakness for Notre Dame is on the offensive line with injuries and inexperience. The Fighting Irish might try to get things going with Kyren Williams in the ground game, but after they find themselves in 2nd-and-12 and 3rd-and-9 situations early, they will adjust and put the ball in the air where the Badgers are beatable.

The few blemishes we’ve seen from the Wisconsin defense this season came in Week 1 when the secondary was not on the same page with a few blown coverages as Penn State wide receivers got behind the defense too often. That was with safety Collin Wilder and cornerback Faion Hicks, both of whom sat against Eastern Michigan and are listed as questionable.

While the status of two seniors in the secondary is uncertain, Wisconsin inside linebacker Leo Chenal, who led the team in sacks, hurries and tackles for loss last season, will be back in the lineup after missing the first 2 games due to COVID-19 protocols. He will provide an extra boost to the pass rush that should take advantage of Notre Dame’s offensive line, which would be huge in limiting Notre Dame’s passing attack.

Wisconsin will definitely respect what former teammate and Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan can do as a passer, but the Badgers also will need to account for backup quarterback Tyler Buchner, who should see plenty of snaps as a running threat and has a better chance at escaping the pass rush with his mobility than Coan does.

Create explosive plays

Wisconsin will more than likely dominate the time of possession in this game because that’s what the Badgers do. They are currently No. 1 in the country in that category and finished at the top in each of the previous 2 seasons. That’s no surprise considering Wisconsin’s style of play that relies so heavily on the running game, but the Badgers will not beat Notre Dame by being one dimensional. The running back combination of Chez Mellusi, Jalen Berger and Isaac Guerendo is solid, but it doesn’t seem like there is an elite talent among the three like a Jonathan Taylor, who could take over a game.

Because of that, the passing game will need to create explosive plays. Wisconsin hasn’t really tried to push the ball down the field at all this season, and though it’s an extremely limited sample size, the Badgers average just 6.2 yards per pass attempt, which ranks No. 95 out of 130 FBS teams. Meanwhile, Notre Dame ranks No. 25 with 8.8 yards per pass attempt. The Irish have a more explosive offense with talented pass catchers, but the Badgers have the playmakers to limit Notre Dame’s edge.

Even against a skilled ND secondary highlighted by safety Kyle Hamilton, who might be the best defensive player in the country, Wisconsin should open up the offense more than it has. Hopefully we will see Graham Mertz take some shots, whether it’s to the Badgers’ best wide receiver Danny Davis or other wideouts Chimere Dike and Kendric Pryor, who might be the fastest player on the roster.

No turnovers from Graham Mertz

Saturday’s game should come down to the final minutes, as a blowout in either direction seems unlikely. So a single turnover could change the outcome. Inside the Penn State 35-yard line in Week 1, Mertz threw 2 interceptions and fumbled twice, though one was recovered by Wisconsin. The Badgers outplayed Penn State, but unforced errors in the red zone cost them the game.

If Mertz makes a similar mistake just once against Notre Dame in what is likely to be a low-scoring game, it could be very difficult to come back from. The Badgers are 5-4 with Mertz as their starting quarterback. In the 5 wins, Mertz finished with zero turnovers. In the 4 losses, he turned the ball over at least once in every game.