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The final score of Wisconsin’s loss to Notre Dame (41-13) does not tell the entire story of the contest.
The Badgers took a 13-10 lead early in the fourth quarter before the Fighting Irish returned a kick for a touchdown and turned Graham Mertz over four times going down the stretch–two of them pick-sixes.
It was a great defensive performance from start to finish, and one which saw the offense continue to squander scoring opportunities and hand the football game away.
Even in the bad and backbreaking loss, there were some great performances to highlight.
Here are studs and duds from Wisconsin’s 41-13 loss to Notre Dame:
DUD: Graham Mertz
Sep 25, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) passes during the first half against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
From my five takeaways from the contest:
Graham Mertz has now started 10 games in his college career.
It’s a simple equation when a team has a defense as good as the one the Badgers have this year (more on that later). Wisconsin needs Mertz to take care of the football, be consistent and come up with a play or two against good teams.
Today, he did none of that.
Big plays opened up countless times down the field and Mertz missed most of them, the Fighting Irish turned two of Mertz’s turnovers into 14 points and when Wisconsin’s drives threatened the end zone, Mertz was mostly unable to finish them.
I wrote earlier this week about how important today’s game was for the quarterback. To me it was critical for him, his confidence and this Wisconsin team.
Well, another bad game against a good team has turned a few data points into a trend. Wisconsin just cannot win football games until he takes massive steps forward.
I’m not even going to talk about the end of the fourth quarter. It is not good.
STUD: Faion Hicks
Sep 25, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr. (4) receives a pass for a touchdown against Wisconsin Badgers cornerback Faion Hicks (1) during the first half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
Faion Hicks was amazing today against a really good crop of Notre Dame receivers.
He finished with 4 pass breakups, the most a Wisconsin cornerback has had in four seasons.
Faion Hicks is the first #Badgers CB with 4 PBU since Nick Nelson on Nov. 4, 2017. Since 2000, no one has had 5.
— Dave Heller (@dave_heller) September 25, 2021
Take away the touchdown (which was a bit questionable), and he was one of the strongest points of a defense that played a really good football game.
DUD: Joe Tippmann
Wisconsin offensive lineman Joe Tippmann (75) looks for someone to block during the first quarter of their game against Eastern Michigan Saturday, September 11, 2021 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. Credit: MARK HOFFMAN/MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL-Imagn Content Services, LLC
Joe Tippmann had a rough go in the center of the Wisconsin offensive line.
Notre Dame’s defensive linemen were able to find penetration, the line as a whole struggled to run block and Mertz’s late-game fumble came thanks in part to a missed block by Tippmann.
Joe Rudolph tried cycling in linemen like he did in Week 1 and yet again could not find a dependable answer. Tippmann in the middle was definitely part of those issues.
DUD: The offensive line
Sep 25, 2021; Chicago, IL, USA; Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz (5) completes a pass to running back Chez Mellusi during the first quarter of their game against Notre Dame Saturday, September 25, 2021 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill. Mandatory Credit: Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
WIth Tippmann’s struggles, the line as a whole had a poor showing.
When this Wisconsin team cannot dominate on the ground we’ve learned that they cannot do much with the football. Today, that was exactly the case.
The Badgers ran for just 74 yards on 28 carries and in passing situations, the line often could not do enough to allow Graham Mertz time to throw the football.
The offense as a whole was the biggest dud of anything. The offensive line struggling definitely played into that performance.
STUD: Kendric Pryor & Danny Davis
Sep 25, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Wisconsin Badgers wide receiver Kendric Pryor (3) runs in for a touchdown against Notre Dame Fighting Irish cornerback Clarence Lewis (6) during the second half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
I missed count of the number of times either Pryor or Davis ran free in the secondary and Graham Mertz missed them.
The two receivers finished with a combined 11 receptions, 133 yards and 1 touchdown. It’s the missed opportunities that stick out the most, though, as both even played better than the stat sheet shows.
DUD: Special teams
Sep 25, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Chris Tyree (25) returns a kick for a touchdown during the second half against the Wisconsin Badgers at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
The unit allowed a kickoff return touchdown immediately after taking a 13-10 lead. That is all that needs to be said.
STUD: The defensive front
Sep 25, 2021; Chicago, IL, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Kyren Williams (23) loses his helmet as he is brought down by Wisconsin Badgers linebacker nose tackle Bryson Williams (91) during their football game Saturday, September 25, 2021, at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill. Mandatory Credit: Dan Powers-USA TODAY Sports
Most of Wisconsin’s bright spots came along the defensive line.
Matt Henningsen: 4 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles-for-loss
Keeanu Benton: 3 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 0.5 tackles-for-loss
Rodas Johnson: 2 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle-for-loss, 1 forced fumble
Bryson Williams: 1 tackle, 1 tackle-for-loss
The Badger defense as a whole combined for 2 forced fumbles, 6 sacks, 12 tackles-for-loss, 5 pass breakups, 3 quarterback hits and only 3 net rushing yards allowed. They played another gem of a game.