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Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024
The Observer

Staff Predictions: Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin

Colin Capece — Assistant Managing Editor

It was refreshing last week to actually be able to breathe in the fourth quarter, as the Irish took control of the game down the stretch against a quality power-five opponent. We saw a more focused and unrelenting Irish offense that kept their foot on the gas when they grabbed the lead, continuing to stay aggressive in the passing game throughout the second half. Tommy Rees called a game that got the ball in the hands of speedy playmaker Avery Davis and allowed Kyren Williams to line up as a receiver to put pressure on the Purdue linebackers. The result was a day filled with big plays, as Jack Coan did a better job of getting the ball out quick against man coverage. On defense, the Irish not only stopped the run, but the secondary played outstanding and didn’t give up any big plays of their own.

The Irish are going to need a similar game plan against an even better Wisconsin team. I don’t expect a ton of offensive fireworks on Saturday, as both teams enter this game with defenses that have figured out how to stop the run. Neither team wants to let the opposing quarterback heat up, and both sides will bring the pressure all game long. Wisconsin is a run-first team, and quarterback Graham Mertz hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass through two games. Even though the unit improved against Purdue, the Irish still have holes on the offensive line. Expect a game where both defenses bend but don’t break in the red zone.

This game is ultimately going to come down to who gives up the big play first. Wisconsin’s secondary struggled against the speed of Penn State wide receivers Jahan Dotson and KeAndre Lambert-Smith in its opener, and Notre Dame needs to keep Davis and Williams involved over the middle of the field to wear down the Badger’s defensive backs before taking a shot downfield. Despite a tough drop on what would have been a wide-open touchdown last week, Braden Lenzy also needs to be a mainstay in the offense Saturday. I expect this one to be a field goal contest until the fourth quarter when someone steps up big for the Irish to haul in a long touchdown grab. The Irish defense will need to stop the Badgers on the final drive, but Notre Dame survives and advances in their own backyard at Soldier Field.

Notre Dame 19, Wisconsin 12

Mannion McGinley — Sports Editor

From here on out, the Irish schedule just climbs in intensity. Purdue was the first step up and while our entire Sports Desk expected the closest game of the season yet, the Irish instead put the first gap in any score they’ve had all season. This weekend will, again, be a test of the strength of the Irish on both sides of the field. Notre Dame’s defense stepped up this weekend. The Irish were able to hold Purdue to only 13 points with no massive play gaps and even grabbed a couple of turnovers. Purdue’s pass game was supposed to be their success and even though Plummer and O’Connell combined for 291 yards passing, they were only able to convert for one touchdown. The entire defense brought the intensity. Kurt Hinish led the pass rush and kept the run game out of the question. Kyle Hamilton got the secondary into shape and the Irish carried a renewed strength.

The problem is this was only Purdue and they were not perfect. This week could be the biggest test for the Irish yet, and the season is only going to get more difficult.

Notre Dame’s two saving graces will be that Mertz has had a season unlike anything he was supposed to have thus far, and that Wisconsin is coming off a bye week (something that tanks head coach Paul Chryst’s win average by .2). With under 300 yards passing over his first two games compared to Coan’s 366 in the season opener alone, Mertz is underperforming his predecessor. He also has yet to throw a touchdown pass this season. If the Irish can lock down the run, the pass game could be an opening for turnovers. That’ll be a big if though as Clemson transfer Chez Mellusi and the running back corps are not a small team. Nor is Mellusi the only standout. Five of them have touchdowns and in individual games, six of them have more than 30 yards.

So, if the Irish can hold the run and force the pass, they can ride the fact that Wisconsin is coming off their bye week and pull out the win.

Notre Dame 21, Wisconsin 17

Emily DeFazio — Associate Sports Editor

What a change of pace it was to not have the fourth quarter be a nail-biter. I have to say, I didn’t mind it. The defense looked more like the well-oiled machine Irish fans know it to be, and the offense managed to win by more than a slight margin, that 51-yard rushing touchdown from Kyren Williams giving fans a glimpse into the potential of the Irish run game. There was improvement, and there will need to be more in the coming weeks if the team wants to get through unscathed by loss. I had my hopes raised a little after Purdue, but then I remembered who was next on the schedule. The Wisconsin game was the matchup I had selected back in simpler times (otherwise known as August) to be our biggest trap game of the season. For a Notre Dame squad that is only just starting to iron out the kinks, this contest continues to make me nervous. The key to winning will be in offensive play. Coan (or Buchner) and the gang will need to have a system down before they even get to the Windy City to ensure a win. The balance between the two quarterbacks must be fairly cemented if it wants to have its desired effect and ensure smooth play. The offensive line also cannot afford any major slip-ups against the Badgers defense; either way, Coan has to be prepared to run should all else fail in the pocket. However, the same can be said for Wisconsin. They will have to outsmart a defense that has started to look more cohesive as the games go on, and with the likes of Kyle Hamilton and JD Bertrand on the field, that could prove to be more difficult than anticipated. Despite the break in nail-biters against Purdue, I expect this one to be another close one, with the Irish pulling out a slight win over the Badgers.

Notre Dame 20, Wisconsin 17

Jimmy Ward — Associate Sports Editor

A win against Purdue seemed to loosen up the tensions that had been floating around the Notre Dame locker room for the past few weeks. And that’s exactly the kind of mindset they will need to be in if they want to stand a chance against the Badgers at Soldier Field this weekend. This game will be no joke and will be the first real test for this Irish team. If they want to leave the Shamrock series game in Chicago with a victory they will have to show up in every single facet of the game. Jack Coan will be a big part of how this game will play out. Cam Hart and Kyle Hamilton will need to bring some of their best play of the season, but in order for that to happen the defensive line needs to show up and allow them to play freely, guys like Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Isaiah Foskey need to play their part. If all this can fall into place then the Irish stand a chance of hanging in there against the Badgers, and I have faith in them here.

Notre Dame 32, Wisconsin 28

Nate Moller — Sports Writer

This game feels like a defining moment for the Irish this season. With a win, the Irish can put their slow start behind them and propel themselves into the thick of the playoff hunt. A loss, on the other hand, would seemingly end the Irish’s CFP chances and put the Irish season at risk of derailing completely. The biggest concern I have going into this game is, once again, the Notre Dame offensive line. Wisconsin’s front seven has been spectacular so far this season, getting constant pressure on the quarterback and limiting the opposing team’s production on the ground. It looked like the Irish offensive line got into a better groove into the second half against Purdue next week, but they will have to improve even more if they are going to be able to adequately protect Coan in the pocket. On the other side of the ball, the Badgers will look to Graham Mertz to lead their offense. Mertz has not looked great in his first two games of the season, and he will have to take care of the ball if the Badgers are to win on Saturday. All in all, I expect Saturday to be a low-scoring affair with both offenses struggling at times to get in a rhythm. Unfortunately for the Irish, I think their weak offensive line is just too much of an obstacle to overcome against a scary-looking Wisconsin defensive line. I don’t anticipate Coan having enough time to get the ball downfield or the Irish to be able to set up a reliable running game all day. Wisconsin wins this one on a last-second field goal.

Notre Dame 17, Wisconsin 20

Aidan Thomas — Sports Writer

It wasn’t perfect, but Notre Dame’s 27-13 win over Purdue showed some serious improvement, particularly defensively. That is key because this weekend is sure to be a defensive slog. November 24, 2018, was the last time Wisconsin gave up more than 28 points to an opponent not named Ohio State. The Irish will need to break off some big plays and capitalize on their chances. Wisconsin has yet to allow a first-half point and forced 3 & Outs on nine of 11 first-half drives. If Notre Dame gets the ball moving, they need to be willing to go for it on fourth down, and they need to take some shots down the field. All that being said, I’m optimistic (a dangerous word to use as an Irish fan) about this weekend. Wisconsin couldn’t do anything offensively against Penn State, and they threw a pick-6 against Eastern Michigan. I like Notre Dame’s improving defense to limit the Badgers, and for Jack Coan and Co. to do just enough on the offensive side of the ball.

Notre Dame 24, Wisconsin 17