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The speed of Chris Tyree flipped Saturday’s No. 12 Notre Dame vs. No. 18 Wisconsin game.
Wisconsin had just taken a 13-10 lead and Notre Dame was down to its third-string quarterback. The momentum was clearly on Wisconsin’s side, but Tyree changed all that.
The speedy running back fielded the ensuing kickoff and took it 96 yards to the house to put the Irish back in front, 17-13. It would prove to be the winning score in an eventual 41-13 victory for the Irish.
With the win, the Irish improved to 4-0 and put Brian Kelly atop the program's all-time wins list. With 106 wins, Kelly surpassed Knute Rockne as the winningest coach in school history.
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) September 25, 2021
After Tyree's kickoff return, the Notre Dame defense stripped Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz. That put the ball into the hands of Notre Dame’s Drew Pyne.
Jack Coan, the Wisconsin transfer who now starts for the Irish, had exited the game with an injury. Tyler Buchner, a freshman who has played quite a bit this season, was out with a hamstring injury. That left Pyne, the 5-foot-11 sophomore, to run the Notre Dame offense. He did so admirably.
Six plays after the Mertz fumble, Pyne hit Kevin Austin for a 16-yard score to extend the lead to 24-13.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 25, 2021
From there, Notre Dame’s defense kept the heat on Mertz, returning two of his interceptions for touchdowns and turning what was once a very close game into a blowout.
Wisconsin, a 6.5-point favorite entering the game, dropped to 1-2.
Both offenses struggled, but turnovers killed Wisconsin
It didn’t take long to realize this game would come down to defense, turnovers and special teams play.
Notre Dame was better in all three phases.
Wisconsin’s heralded run game could not get anything going whatsoever, a development that forced Mertz to make plays through the air. It did not go well.
While the Badgers mustered only 78 rushing yards, Mertz really struggled. He finished the afternoon 18-of-41 for 240 yards, a touchdown, four interceptions and a lost fumble. In addition to the interceptions, Mertz was especially underwhelming on third down as the Badgers finished a miserable 1-of-14 on third down. They also were unable to convert on a fourth-and-short attempt in the first half.
Notre Dame wasn’t prolific on offense by any means. The Irish finished with just three rushing yards, but the Irish turned the ball over just once (a Pyne fumble on a strip sack), got that crucial kick return touchdown from Tyree and capitalized on Wisconsin’s mistakes.
Notre Dame scored 31 of its 41 points off of Wisconsin turnovers. The Irish also added a field goal following a Wisconsin turnover on downs and scored on Tyree’s kickoff return.
What’s next for Notre Dame?
The schedule won’t get easier for Notre Dame. Next week, the Irish will welcome No. 8 Cincinnati to South Bend.
The Bearcats beat Indiana on the road last week to improve to 3-0 and will be coming off a bye headed into Notre Dame Stadium. Cincinnati had an undefeated regular season last year but was kept out of the College Football Playoff. This year, these trips to Indiana and especially Notre Dame should serve as substantial resume boosts.
Notre Dame hasn’t exactly cruised to this 4-0 start. The Irish needed overtime to beat Florida State, scored a touchdown with a minute remaining to beat Toledo and were outgained in their win over Purdue.
Saturday’s performance was the best of the bunch.