By: Phil Houk of Fighting Irish Preview
#18 Wisconsin is 1-1, they were idle last week. In their last game they defeated Eastern Michigan 34-7. In week one they narrowly lost to Penn State 16-10.
Paul Cryst is in his 7th season in Madison and has enjoyed a lot of success. The Badgers have been to bowl games for 19 straight years and under Cryst they have gone 5-1 in those games. The lone loss was in the 2019 Rose Bowl to Oregon 28-27 when a guy by the name of Jack Coan was at the controls. In that narrow loss to the #6 ranked Ducks, Coan, BTW, was 23-35 for 186 yards and 1 TD.
Sophomore Graham Merz who is the highest rated QB to ever enroll at UW, took over from Coan last year after Coan was injured before the season. Merz however is off to a slow start this season. Through 2 games he has thrown 2 interception and no touchdown passes. A year ago in the shortened season, Merz was a 61% passer with 9 TD passes and 5 interceptions.
All of Merz’s top receivers are back from last year. Danny Davis at wide receiver and TE Jake Ferguson are the best of the lot. A year ago the 6-5 244 pound Ferguson led the Badgers in catches, yards and touchdowns.
The Badgers of course are known for their running game and they don’t seem to want to change that reputation in 2021. Junior Chez Mellusi, a transfer from Clemson is the lead rusher, he has gone for 265 yards and 2 TDs already this season. Junior Issac Guerendo is another back to watch for, he is averaging 8.7 yards per carry and has an 82-yard touchdown to his credit. The Badger offensive line returns 3 out of 5 from a year ago.
On defense through two games the Badgers have been outstanding. In the game one loss to Penn State their defense held up their end of the bargain by holding the Nittany Lions to 3-13 on third down, just 50 yards rushing and under 300 yards total on the day. To this point of the season they rank number 1 nationally against the run and are allowing just 1.8 yards per rush. In all 8 starters have returned from a group that finished 5th nationally last year in total defense.
This week, Brian Kelly singled out nose tackle Keeanu Benton and the Badger linebacking corps. The linebackers he said, would be “as instinctive and disciplined” as any the Irish will face this year. This linebacking group is outstanding at stopping the run and they are aggressive pass rushers. They will present a tall task for Notre Dame’s patchwork offensive line.
ND’s defense should be up to the task of keeping the points down in this game, but it is unlikely that the Irish running game will find much room to operate against the Wisconsin front seven. ND’s best offensive hope will be to find a way to give Jack Coan the time to make plays with his arm.
Through three games, the Irish are making progress defensively and are capable of holding the points down in this game against what is by Wisconsin standards a ‘so-so’ offense. On the other side of the ball if Jack Coan is a bit more accurate and the Irish receivers cut down on their drops from a week ago, the Irish can make just enough plays to “eke” this one out.
TV coverage on Fox starts at noon (EDT).
Wisconsin is a 6.5 point favorite, and the Over/Under is 46.5.
The Fighting Irish Preview Pick: Notre Dame 20 Wisconsin 17