When Notre Dame and Wisconsin face off against each other this Saturday at noon in Chicago, both teams will be looking to do the same thing. Each will be looking for a win over a ranked opponent to validate their own ranking. Despite their struggles in the passing game, the Badgers defense has played well enough to justify making Wisconsin the favorite.
But Notre Dame is 3-0 for a reason. While they have not played the cleanest football, the Fighting Irish have found a way to win so far during the 2021 college football season. Can they do so this week against one of the best defenses in the country?
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Yes, Notre Dame’s 3-0 record says a lot about them. But is a close win over Florida State still impressive in light of the Seminoles’ 0-3 start? The win over Toledo was nice, but we are talking about a MAC team. While a 14-point win is nothing to shake a stick at, Purdue is not exactly a powerhouse.
So far, the offense has been okay, but it has not looked fantastic. The line is struggling to protect Coan (who has been sacked 14 times in three games). While Coan is playing well, he has turned the ball over three times. The run game has not been bad, but it has struggled to get on track against lackluster defenses. Wisconsin’s defense is far from lackluster.
However, to be fair, the Fighting Irish have a lot of new starters on the offensive side of the ball. Jack Coan took over for Ian Book after transferring from Wisconsin. The Notre Dame offensive line had to be rebuilt, and the Fighting Irish lost their top two receivers from 2020.
As for the Notre Dame defense, you can describe it in the same way as the offense. It has done enough but has not looked great. Yes, it lost some key playmakers from 2020. But they had talent ready to step in. Maybe the unit just has not jelled just yet. It will undoubtedly need to step up against the Badgers for Notre Dame to pull off a win.
It would have been easy to write the Badgers off after their loss to Penn State. Yes, the defense was as tough as ever against the run, but Graham Mertz looked like he had taken a few giant steps backward. Averaging just 3.1 yards a carry was not too impressive either. But then they came back the following week and looked like the team fans know and love.
The passing game was still non-existent, but Mertz did not throw any picks this time. However, the run game came alive for 352 yards and four touchdowns on 55 carries. As for the defense, it held Eastern Michigan to just 92 total yards, 16 on the ground. But the Eagles rank 107th in total offense and 110th in total defense, so how impressed should we be?
Wisconsin looks like the kind of team we are accustomed to seeing from them. They have a top-ranked defense (No. 2 in total defense) that no one can run on (No. 1 rushing defense), and they are stingy with the points (No. 11 scoring defense). Oh—and they can run the ball (No. 10) and control the clock (No. 1).
If Wisconsin plays like the team that Eastern Michigan saw, then the Fighting Irish do not stand a chance. But if they play as the one Penn State saw, then the Badgers are in for a heck of a fight from the Fighting Irish.
For Notre Dame to win, they will need the Badgers to make a few mistakes. If the Fighting Irish can force them into some passing situations, the probability of that happening rises significantly. Wisconsin just needs to do what they appear to do best— run the ball. If Notre Dame does not have the ball, they cannot score.
So—what’s going to happen?
Notre Dame has not played great, but the Fighting Irish have figured out how to win. That is a trait that comes in handy against teams as good as Wisconsin appears to be. While the Badgers may not be as good as their stats make them appear to be, they are a good team.
The safest bet in this game is to take the under. Wisconsin’s defense will keep Notre Dame from scoring a lot, and Wisconsin’s offense is too one-dimension to score a lot against a decent Notre Dame team. As for a winner— if you can handle a little risk, take Notre Dame via the spread. If you are good with a lot of risk, make it the moneyline.