Notre Dame and Wisconsin head to Chicago's Soldier Field this weekend for midwestern bragging rights in one of the more intriguing non-conference matchups this season. The quarterback connection with Jack Coan is certainly a headliner in this game, as Coan transferred from Wisconsin to Notre Dame, but the game carries other weight to it as well.
Notre Dame hasn't looked great this season and could use a statement game to turn the momentum around in their favor moving forward. Wisconsin has already taken a loss this season and cannot afford another in non-conference play if the Badgers are to work their way back onto the College Football Playoff radar.
The Badgers enter the game a solid favorite in this one, but will the Fighting Irish have a few surprises to show off in the Windy City this weekend?
No. 12 Notre Dame vs. No. 18 Wisconsin
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 25 at 12 p.m. ET
Where: Soldier Field (Chicago)
Spread: Wisconsin -6.5
When Notre Dame Has the Ball
Coan, the former Wisconsin starting quarterback, has been thriving with the Irish. Coan has completed 62.6 percent of his pass attempts for 828 yards with eight touchdowns (and two interceptions), although he did struggle to get in a great rhythm against Purdue last week. And the downward trend in Coan's statistics should be a little concerning heading into this game against a solid Wisconsin defense. The Badgers have allowed just 194.5 yards per game through just two games (against Penn State and Eastern Michigan).
In a game that should be seeing plenty of work on the ground, Notre Dame's rushing attack will be led by Kyren Williams. The sophomore has rushed for 211 yards and two touchdowns while adding 155 receiving and two more scores. Expect to see Notre Dame try to get him involved, while the Badgers make it difficult to do so consistently.
When Wisconsin Has the Ball
After faltering far too many times in the red zone in the season opener against Penn State, Wisconsin knows it must be better with its scoring opportunities in order to get by Notre Dame. With the Badgers' only other game coming against Eastern Michigan, it may be difficult to say just how much they improved since the opener. This will be the second real test for Paul Chryst's team.
Chez Mullusi has burst on the scene as Wisconsin's top running back with 265 yards and two touchdowns in the first two games of the season, and he'll be the main focal point of the Badgers' effort on the ground against an Irish defense that has given up 148.3 rushing yards per game this season.
But the big story to watch here may be Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz. Mertz is in need of a big game against a quality opponent, and the comparisons with Coan will be prevalent during this matchup. Mertz also has to avoid throwing passes into danger because Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton will make him pay for them. Hamilton already has three interceptions this season and his range on the field is incredible.
Notre Dame has looked a little choppy in recent weeks, and the thriller against Florida State in the season opener looks far less impressive and encouraging as it did in the moment given how far the Seminoles have fallen. But this is a game that should be a good defensive test for both teams, and the Fighting Irish have the better quarterback (Coan) and the better playmaker on defense (Hamilton). Both will prove to be the difference in this one as Notre Dame finds a way to remain undefeated.
Prediction: Notre Dame 24, Wisconsin 20
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