The return of the Shamrock Series brings together No. 12 Notre Dame and No. 18 Wisconsin for the first time in 57 years. The Fighting Irish and Badgers have played each other 16 times, but the last time they shared a field was on Sept. 26, 1964.
Notre Dame won that game 31-7 in Madison, Wis., making Ara Parseghian’s debut on the Irish sideline a successful one. Quarterback John Huarte (’65) and wide receiver Jack Snow (’65) connected for a pair of long touchdowns and the Irish defense held Wisconsin to minus-51 rushing yards en route to the victory.
The Irish lead the all-time series between the two schools 8-6-2. This will be the fourth time Notre Dame and Wisconsin compete on a neutral field, with the Irish having won the only previous meeting at Chicago’s Soldier field 19-0 in 1929. The Badgers won a pair of games in Milwaukee, blanking the Irish 58-0 in 1904 and 21-0 in 1905.
This will be the first time Notre Dame and Wisconsin meet when both are ranked.
Notre Dame will be playing in its 10th Shamrock Series game, but its first since 2018 when it demolished Syracuse 36-3 in Yankee Stadium in 2018. The Irish are 9-0 in Shamrock Series games and have won by an average margin of 22.8 points. They have scored 27 or more points in eight of the previous nine contests, including a 41-3 rout of Miami at Soldier Field in 2012. All told, the Irish are 10-0-2 in games played at Soldier Field.
Todd Burlage, contributing writer
Wisconsin 24, Notre Dame 21
Seventh-year Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst was fortunate after a disappointing 4-3 season in 2020 when almost all of his NFL eligible players elected to return to school in 2021, including eight on a defense that last year finished fifth nationally in both total defense (299.9 yards allowed per game) and rushing defense (96.1), and is off to a similar strong statistical start in 2021.
Wisconsin enters this game off of a bye week, and beating ranked teams away from Notre Dame Stadium has never been a strength for Irish head coach Brian Kelly.
With an extra week to prepare, and again, with eight sturdy starters back on a defense that led the Big Ten in total defense last season, expect a physical game that will be won in the trenches.
And after losing the season opener to Penn State, the desperate Badgers cannot remain playoff worthy with a second September loss.
Conversely, Notre Dame’s early season performance and a strength of schedule ranking that is dropping fast also leaves no room for error for the Irish.
Steve Downey, managing editor
Wisconsin 17, Notre Dame 13
All eyes will be on the quarterback matchup that pits former top-50 recruit Graham Mertz versus former Badger Jack Coan, though ultimately there are other areas that will have a greater impact on the final result of this game.
Mertz, of course, will need to play better then he has so far this season. In fact, after a spectacular showing in his debut as the Badgers’ starting quarterback in 2020 — 20-of-21 passing for 248 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions in a 45-7 beatdown of Illinois — he has been downright pedestrian. In his seven starts since, he is averaging just 162.3 passing yards per game with only four touchdown passes and seven interceptions. Wisconsin 1-4 in games in which he has thrown a pick, including their disappointing 16-10 home loss to Penn State in their season opener when Mertz accounted for three turnovers (two interceptions and a fumble).
The Badgers, however, feature another strong offensive line and a deep stable of running backs. Through two games that combination has produced 266.0 rushing yards per game (10th-best nationally) and an average time of possession of 40 minutes and 57 seconds (No. 1 in the country).
Notre Dame limited Purdue’s weak ground attack to just 57 yards last week, but still ranked 73rd in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game (145.7).
The Irish’s offensive line struggles, meanwhile, have been eye opening — just 105.7 rushing yards per game (115th out of 130 FBS teams) with 28 tackles for loss (125th) and 15 sacks allowed (tied for 126th). Wisconsin ranks first in the country in stopping the run (33.0 yards allowed per game) and seventh in yards allowed per carry (1.83).
Unless the Fighting Irish are able to force some game-changing turnovers, I believe the Badgers’ advantage in the trenches will allow them to grind out a victory.
Patrick Engel, editor
Wisconsin 20, Notre Dame 17
With a still-quiet Notre Dame run game and Wisconsin’s limited passing offense, this has the makings of a low-scoring, Big Ten West-like game. I’m even more confident in that after Notre Dame’s better defensive showing with few big-play leaks vs. Purdue.
Wisconsin and Notre Dame’s defenses are stylistically different. The Irish have given up some big plays, but have been one of the more disruptive units in college football too. They’re fifth in sacks per game and 17th in tackles for loss per game. The Badgers haven’t allowed many points or yards — they’re first nationally with just 33.0 rushing yards allowed per game — but also don’t generate much havoc.
I don’t see Wisconsin’s passing game putting much stress on the Irish defense. I have a hard time envisioning Notre Dame running the ball with much success vs. the Badgers. If the Irish can keep Wisconsin’s ground game in check, I like Jack Coan and the passing offense’s chances of hitting a couple downfield plays.
The thing is, it’s also hard to shake the overall skepticism and hollowness of the Irish’s 3-0 record, even after the win over Purdue provided some optimism and answers. I’m picking Wisconsin 20-17. I’ve circled this as a Wisconsin victory for a while, but I’m not quite as confident in it as I once was.
Tyler Horka, staff writer
Notre Dame 20, Wisconsin 17
Everyone wants to know if the Notre Dame offense can pile up yards and put up points against Wisconsin’s stingy defense. Rightfully so. If the going was tough against the likes of Toledo and Purdue for large stretches of those respective games, then what makes anyone think the Fighting Irish can be productive against a team that boasts the nation’s No. 2 total defense and No. 1 rushing defense?
Well, I haven’t seen anything that suggests Wisconsin is going to be highly successful against the Notre Dame defense, either. The Irish just put forth their best defensive outing of the season against Purdue. Wisconsin was stymied by Penn State in week one and wasn’t exactly an all-around offensive juggernaut against Eastern Michigan in week two. Yes, the Badgers ran for a boatload of yards (352) against the Eagles, but this Notre Dame front seven is a different animal.
Offense is going to be hard to come by for both sides. In the end, Notre Dame has more potential in the passing game than Wisconsin. Badgers redshirt sophomore Graham Mertz has yet to throw a touchdown pass this season. His former teammate and current Irish starter Jack Coan will out-duel him through the air, and the Notre Dame defense will do enough to secure a big-time blue and gold victory.
Mike Singer, recruiting insider
Wisconsin 24, Notre Dame 23
This game will be a barnburner, and the best way to figure out who will win the contest is by flipping a coin.
Marcus Freeman’s aggressive defense will need to play assignment sound if it has any chance of stopping the Badgers’ rushing attack. His unit showed signs of improvement against Purdue, but Wisconsin is a completely different animal.
I have the Badgers coming out in the thinnest of margins in the Jack Coan Bowl. I believe the former Wisconsin quarterback will perform well, but I do not have enough trust in the Notre Dame offensive line to keep Coan upright and allow Kyren Williams to get it going on the ground. If the Irish have several three-and-outs against a strong Badgers’ defense, Freeman’s group may wear down, which plays right into Wisconsin’s strength.
I can’t say I have much confidence in this prediction at all. I could easily see Notre Dame winning it. Like I said, it’s a coin flip. The Vegas line has been bet up to Wisconsin being favored by 6.5 points. That seems way too high in a game that should be a low-scoring battle.
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