Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame: Staff predictions

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The weekend is finally here.

Less than 24 hours from now the No. 18 Wisconsin Badgers will take the field in Chicago against old friend Jack Coan and the No. 12 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

The game has seen years of build-up, as last year’s contest at Lambeau Field was canceled, Coan transferred to Notre Dame after the 2020 season and the 2021 season began with this game circled.

For both Wisconsin and Notre Dame, this game will be a litmus test. Both programs have shown good signs this season, though both have also shown some real question marks. A win on Saturday will go a long way towards constructing the narrative surrounding how good each team truly is.

Asher and I are joined by Nick Shepkowski and Michael Chen of FightingIrishWire to give our predictions for the contest and explain how we see the game unfolding.

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Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame: Numbers to know

Nick Shepkowski of FightingIrishWire:

Sep 11, 2021; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish tight end Michael Mayer (87) scores in the fourth quarter against the Toledo Rockets at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

I keep going back and forth on this one and I still am not fully sure how it ends but it should get a dandy. Wisconsin’s defense is well documented as one of the nation’s finest but as much as Notre Dame’s has struggled, they’ve only allowed three touchdowns in their last 29 series. What I see is a real struggle for points which should tug the heartstrings of the masses of midwestern football fans who have craved this matchup for a very long time. Who can connect on the big play and who forces the key turnover? It very well could take just one of each if points are as hard to come by as I expect. Dear lord, I’ve talked myself into it after saying all week I wouldn’t…Kyle Hamilton makes the difference with a massive play.

Prediction: Notre Dame 13 Wisconsin 10

Mike Chen of FightingIrishWire

Sep 11, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers wide receiver Chimere Dike (13) celebrates after earning a first down during the third quarter against the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

We missed out on this one last year, but Saturday early afternoon in Soldier Field, these two Midwest powers finally get to collide. The toughest test for the Irish will be against the Badgers, but which version of this team will show up? I’m not just talking about Notre Dame but Wisconsin as well. Both teams have slept walked up to this game and I fully expect to see the best from both squads. This game hinges on the quarterback battle, Graham Mertz and Jack Coan, the former teammates. Do we see FSU Coan or Purdue Coan? On the other side, Mertz has yet to throw a TD pass this year, but we all know he’s capable of lighting up a defense. Defensively, it’s the Badgers that have the advantage, they have had an up-close-and-personal view of what Coan can do. Jim Leonard, their defensive coordinator will play to their strengths and force Coan to beat them. Both quarterbacks will make mistakes but I think it’s Mertz that has less and the Badgers eek out a win in the Windy City.

Prediction: Wisconsin 24 Notre Dame 20

Asher Low of BadgersWire:

Sep 4, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) throws a pass during the first quarter against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Camp Randall Stadium. Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday’s contest features two teams who mirror each other in a number of ways. I think this version of Wisconsin will be more effective at enforcing their style than Notre Dame. It all starts in the trenches, where I think the Badgers have an advantage on both sides of the football. Expect a solid O-line performance and the defensive line to continue their dominance. Graham Mertz doesn’t have to be the best player on the field, in fact he doesn’t even have to be the best quarterback on the field for Wisconsin to win. He has to complete his layups, take care of the football, and, well, execute basic handoffs to his running backs. The big play ability of the Irish is concerning, and Notre Dame should feel better about falling behind early than Wisconsin would. The first quarter is everything for a Badger team that has to play with the lead.

Prediction: Wisconsin 24 Notre Dame 21

Ben Kenney of BadgersWire:

Sep 11, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers defensive end Matt Henningsen (92) celebrates after sacking Eastern Michigan Eagles quarterback Ben Bryant (8) (not pictured) during the second quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

I see Saturday looking a lot like Wisconsin’s Week 1 contest against Penn State: Notre Dame’s offensive line will struggle with the Badgers front, Wisconsin will find success on the ground and Paul Chryst will go home happy about the time of possession stat. I think the Badger defense has what it takes to bottle Kyren Williams for the most part and run with the Fighting Irish’s receivers. If they can avoid the home run touchdowns, the unit could be looking at a single-digit performance. If not, this will be a really closely contested game. Then for the Badger offense, it’ll all be about what they do in the red zone and whether Mertz takes care of the football. In the end, I think the group does just enough to take care of the ball and put enough points on the board to win.

Prediction: Wisconsin 21, Notre Dame 16

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