The 12th ranked Fighting Irish were able to continue their winning ways this past Saturday as they took down the drum-less Purdue Boilermakers with a final score of 27-13 to move on to 3-0 on the year. This marked the 105th win in Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame tenure, tying him with the great Knute Rockne for most all time wins in school history. Kelly’s first win as an Irish head coach also came against Purdue, so Saturday’s matchup provided a full circle wrap up in that aspect. The game wasn’t pretty, but the Irish played the best they have all season against the best talent they had faced up to that point.
Offensively, the word that I would use to describe Notre Dame’s performance against Purdue is “inconsistent”. There were moments when the Irish looked like they were cooking, crisp offensive execution and play calling that was on par to what we as Irish fans have been used to seeing. There were other moments when passes were dropped (and there were quite a few), blocks were missed, and the offence looked to be sputtering with no hope of getting any traction. Purdue’s defense did a great job limiting Michael Mayer’s production to just one catch for five total yards through the air. Typically, when a defense has to dedicate multiple defenders to take out a running or receiving threat, this should free up opportunities for other receivers to step up and dominate. Unfortunately, the Notre Dame receiving corps, outside of Avery Davis, did not step up to the challenge. Through the first three weeks of this Notre Dame season, we have seen that Jack Coan is a pocket passer with very limited mobility. He does have the arm strength to allow the Irish offense to take deep shots down the field, but the Purdue game seemed to highlight some disengagement and frustration from the Notre Dame wide receivers. Kevin Austin and Braden Lenzy both had the chance to put up some impressive stat lines but could not come up with the big plays when their numbers were called. In my opinion, this game was a few completed passes away from being an absolute blow out in favor of the Irish. With the amount of sheer talent that is present with the Irish wide receivers, I don’t see this trend continuing and expect the passing game to look a lot better in the upcoming matchup against Wisconsin.
On the defensive side of the ball, Kyle Hamilton and JD Bertrand continue to dominate for the Irish. For the third week in a row, Bertrand finished with 10+ tackles while Hamilton came up with his third (what should be his fourth) interception on the year. Side note on Kyle Hamilton – as a Notre Dame fan, please enjoy his unbelievable talents as much as you can this year as he will undoubtedly be making the jump to the pros following this season. Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa seemed to live in the Purdue backfield and was a major contributor in the Notre Dame’s defensive line success. Overall, I was much more impressed with the defensive performance in week three and expect that type of play to continue, and improve, as the season progresses.
Looking ahead to the upcoming Shamrock Series matchup against the 18th ranked Wisconsin Badgers, this game will tell us a lot about both programs. Taking place at Chicago’s Soldier Field, although a neutral site game, this is considered a Wisconsin home game (not sure why) and I expect it to be a great atmosphere. In one of Brian Kelly’s weekly press conferences, he described this Wisconsin program with two consistent themes: “smart and well coached”. Coming off a bye week, the Badgers will have had plenty of time to prepare to take on their former quarterback, Jack Coan, and the Irish.
Wisconsin has a top-5 defense and will undoubtedly test Notre Dame’s offensive efficiency this week. I expect this to be a very low scoring, “slug fest” type of game. Offensively, Brian Kelly pointed out that they are taking the perspective of this being a game similar to Navy in the sense that the Irish are expecting to have a very limited number of possessions on offense. With that being said, that will force Offensive Coordinator Tommy Rees to be dialed in, needing to put points on the board on most, if not all, possessions. For this to happen, the Irish will need to put together offensive drives with chunk plays while doing what they can to establish some sort of semblance of a run game to keep the Wisconsin offense off the field. The problem here is that Wisconsin has some big (and I mean BIG) linebackers and an extremely physical front seven – something that doesn’t bode well for the way the Irish line has been playing. I will give it to them, Notre Dame’s offensive line did improve their play against Purdue and another week-to-week increase in their protection would be more than welcomed against the Badgers. Notre Dame is hoping to have Michael Carmody back this week and I was thoroughly impressed with the play of freshman Joe Alt, who the Irish “converted to tight end” to help with blocking against the Boilermakers this past Saturday as well.
For the Badgers, their veteran offensive line has provided good protection for quarterback Graham Mertz who has led an efficient and effective offensive attach. The Badgers, having only played two games this season, are averaging 22 points on offense and have a good deal of talent at the skill positions as well. In their most recent matchup against Eastern Michigan, Mertz completed 82% of his passes for 141 yards through the air. Wide receivers Kendric Pryor and Danny Davis III, tight end Jake Ferguson, and running back Chez Mellusi are all players to keep an eye on for the Badgers. Mellusi rushed for an average of just over seven yards per carry against Easter Michigan while Pryor and Davis hauled in a combined seven catches for 84 yards in the contest as well. The Badgers have a run first offense and it will be much needed for the Notre Dame defenders to contain this ground attack.
For the Irish to have success in this Shamrock Series matchup, I think it will all come down to the offensive side of the ball. I expect Notre Dame’s defense to continue to be able to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks and will hopefully be able to come up with some key stops and a takeaway or two. The offense will need to put points on the board with almost every possession and I expect the Badgers to try and limit Mayer’s production as we saw opponents to have success in doing so these past two weeks. If Rees can scheme up some drives where Mayer is able to get some touches, that should help to open the passing game, allowing the Irish receivers to make some big plays – helping to establish a ground game as well. After an abysmal performance from the receiving corps last week, I think (and hope) they will come out with some fire, ready to put their talents on display. If the combination of Coan and Buchner can stretch the field, take care of the ball, and put Notre Dame’s skill players in positions to make plays, I think Notre Dame can come out 4-0. If we see the same Irish team that was on display against Toledo, we will be in for a long Saturday. It’s time for the Irish to put together a full four quarter game. The line has been fluctuating with Wisconsin being somewhere around a five to seven point favorite, but I expect the final score to be very close. Picking with my heart, I will say that Notre Dame comes out victories 24-21. It’s going to be a “rock ‘em, sock ‘em” type of game and it’s time for the Irish to take care of business, making Brian Kelly the winningest coach in Irish history.
Go Irish. Beat Badgers.
A Look at Notre Dame’s Opponents:
Florida State: 0-3 overall, lost to Wake Forest 35-14
Toledo: 1-2 overall, lost to Colorado State 22-6
Wisconsin: 1-1 overall, coming off bye week, currently ranked #18
Cincinnati: 3-0 overall, beat Indiana 38-24, currently ranked #8
Virginia Tech: 2-1 overall, lost to West Virginia 27-21
USC: 2-1 overall, beat Washington State 45-14
North Carolina: 2-1 overall, beat Virginia 59-39, currently ranked #21
Navy: 0-2 overall, coming off bye week
Virginia: 2-1 overall, lost to North Carolina 59-39
Georgia Tech: 1-2 overall, lost to Clemson 14-8
Stanford: 2-1 overall, beat Vanderbilt 41-23