This is being written at Halftime, and Notre Dame leads 10-3. (No kidding I really wrote this at halftime). The first half was full of remarkable numbers. The one that stands out most is ND with 152 yards passing and 150 total yards. You do the math. Kyren Williams has 8 carries for 7 yards. Also consider that Jack Coan was sacked 3 times and that ND held the Badgers to 88 yards from scrimmage, 17 yards rushing 71 passing.
Quarterback comparison: Jack Coan’s numbers: 14-25 152 and 1TD and Wisconsin’s Merz: 5-13, 71 yards,1 interception. Coan is not mobile but he did scramble a few times in the first half for helpful gains. At this point I’m thinking ND got the better end of the QB deal, when Wisconsin decided to go with Merz and Coan transferred to ND.
Time of possession has been dominated by ND, surprisingly and ND is stopping Wisconsin on 3rd down. To go along with those three sacks, Wisconsin has 8 tackles for loss. ND’s offensive line is a mess-that is not news in the least. To offset that mess, ND showed its “big play” skills with an outstanding catch by Kevin Austin in the end zone from 36 yards out. That came after a Cam Hart interception. Prior to the game I figured the Irish would need 4-5 “big plays” to beat the Badgers. Austin’s catch after Hart’s interception add up to one. If the Irish are going to win this thing they need to crank up the big play machine in the second half, and the defense may have to lead the way.
Observation on my Halftime Observations Three second half interceptions including two that were returned for TDs later, I nailed it. But in my mind, that is always the case.
And now on to the postgame observations.
If you can’t run you better be able to protect. Okay that cliché ended up being blown out of the water today, because the Irish did not run the football worth a plug nickel, 30 carries, 3 lousy yards (if you adjust those yards for the sack yardage lost the Irish gained 42 yards on 24 carries), and having given up 6 sacks, they definitely did not protect. How is it possible to win a football game with a non-existent running game and an inability to protect your quarterback? Look for clues to solve that riddle in the next 3 observations:
Chris Tyree and Kevin Austin Chris Tyree, perhaps inspired by the Badger fans “Jump Around” routine after the 3rd quarter, answered the Badger field goal that had given Wisconsin a 13-10 lead in the first minute of the 4th quarter, with a electric 96 yard kickoff return TD. Thus started an avalanche of points for the Irish.
Kevin Austin had a bounce back game for sure and kept the Irish in the bare knuckled prizefight that lasted a little over three quarters before the Irish knocked the Badgers out. Austin’s 36 yard reception from Coan in the end zone at the 4:48 mark of the second quarter broke a 3-3 tie in time for the half. Coan dropped an on target fade but Austin needed all his bountiful skills to wrestle the ball away from the coverage. Austin added to his big day on the next ND drive after Tyree’s return TD with a his 2nd TD of the day, this one on a nifty 16 yard post route delivery from Drew Pyne.
And then there were three Speaking of Drew Pyne, the 5-11 Sophomore, playing in relief of Jack Coan who went out midway through the 3rd quarter with a leg injury, invoked memories of Ian Book during his first extended action. Pyne finished his day 6-8 good for 81 yards and 1 TD. He also showed some mobility, escapability and ability to throw on the run, “a la” Book. That set of skills are not exactly Jack Coan’s strong points, and they were needed at a time when Wisconsin’s pass rush was gashing the the Irish oline routinely.
Brian Kelly confirmed post game that Tyler Buchner was not available due to a hamstring issue suffered against Purdue. But he also confirmed that there is no Quarterback controversy at ND, “Jack Coan is our starter. And so there’s no question about if he’s able and physically able, he’ll be our starter against Cincinnati.”
That settles that, sort of, but it is nice to know that you have three guys at the position , all with different skill sets that can come in and make plays. According to Kelly he expects all three QBs to be available to play next week.
Prepare for that Cincinnati.
4 interceptions, be still my ‘Hart”! On the season in 2020 Notre Dame’s defense intercepted 7 passes, in 2019 they snagged 9. Expect 2021 to bust that trend, because through 4 games the Irish have already intercepted 9. That number includes two by Cam Hart against Wisconsin. Hart’s 1st on the day led to Kevin Austin’s first TD catch, his second in the 4th quarter essentially sealed the Irish victory.
Kelly post game gushed about Hart, “We’ve got some guys making plays… Cam is great example of it”. Hart also faced the media post game, and when asked about what is different compared to last season, the response from the lanky 6-2 corner was telling about what Marcus Freeman has brought to South Bend, “Play free and play with intensity…”
Over and over since Freeman came to town defensive players have talked about the ability and the encouragement they have been getting to “play free” Now, there is nothing “wrong” with the defense that the Irish played under Clark Lea. They held points down and more often then not they slammed the door shut on the opposition in the 4th quarter. But when Lea moved on to a head coaching job, Brian Kelly went looking for a style of defense with a higher potential to to make disruptive plays. And It looks like he found it.
Notre Dame is definitely disrupting opponents under Freeman. Interceptions including two “pick six” returns, forced fumbles, sacks and tackles for loss are stacking up. Cam Hart is a beneficiary of this new style, and Wisconsin QB Graham Merz is licking some wounds today as a result of it.
A few more words about Brian and Knute I think Brian Kelly handled the whole breaking Knute’s career wins mark quite well. Asked last week what his place in ND history was by being the all-time winingest Coach, he ansered matter of factly, “I can tell you exactly where I sit in Notre Dame History, the coach who won more games, and hasn’t won a championship.” Postgame Wisconsin, Fresh from a Gatorade bath from his players, he was asked again what breaking the record meant to him. His response was, respectful to Rockne’s legacy and honest. After paying tribute to the leadership Of University President Father John Jenkins and athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, Kelly gave insight to his own feelings, ” I get more joy in watching the development of a Drew Pyne… and Chris Tyree…. that’s why I do this. You know, you don’t do it for 31 years because you’re trying to beat Knute Rockne’s record. I mean, no disrespect to Knute. But I’m just glad it’s over with and we can move on to trying to beat Cincinnati.”
BTW, the “FUN” I talked about in Brian and Knute last week was on hyper drive in the 4th quarter at Soldier Field yesterday.
The Irish are 4-0.