The Shamrock Series and Soldier Field have both been kind to Notre Dame Football. Since its inception in ‘09, the Fighting Irish are 9-0 in Shamrock Series clashes. The Irish are 9-0 all-time in Shamrock Series classics. At Soldier Field, Notre Dame moved to 11-0-2, after getting some unlikely contributions to pull away from #18 Wisconsin on Saturday.
Shorthanded Irish Enter As Shamrock Series Underdogs
Notre Dame was already 5.5 point underdogs to the Badgers entering Saturday. That number swung even more in favor of Wisconsin when captain and starting nose tackle Kurt Hinish was declared out with injury. Facing the daunting task of stopping a tough Wisconsin rushing offense without one of their top players, Notre Dame was in need of some big efforts.
Throughout the contest, the Irish got those efforts and then some. Notre Dame held the Badgers to a measly 1-16 on third down, forced five turnovers, and for the second straight week, held their opponent to just 13 points. For a while, it looked like that 13 points was going to be enough to topple the Irish. Notre Dame struggled to move the ball against a stingy defense, and then starting quarterback Jack Coan left the game with an ankle injury. However, that paved the way for an inspired effort from backup Drew Pyne, as Notre Dame turned up the heat with a stunning 31-point fourth quarter. That was enough to turn a 13-10 deficit into a 41-13 blowout that didn’t reflect the slog of a battle that took place in Chicago.
Hart, Lacey Step Up In First Half Grind
The game did not get off to an ideal start for the Irish, who lost about five yards in three plays and punted on their opening possession. They immediately surrendered a 22-yard pass that brought the Badgers to the brink of the red zone. However, the Irish stiffened and forced a field goal that kept the deficit to 3-0. The Irish ground out a 15-play drive after that, but a 37-yard field goal miss nullified the effort.
After trading punts, Notre Dame’s defense made a couple of huge plays to spur the offense into action. First, with Wisconsin driving into the red zone, the Irish made a big third-down stop, forcing a 4th and 1. On that fourth-down play, reserve nose tackle Jacob Lacey broke through the line and made the stop. The Irish converted that momentum into a 16-play drive resulting in a field goal.
On the following Wisconsin drive, Cam Hart stepped in front of a Graham Mertz pass, collecting his first career interception. The Irish took over at midfield and utilized the short field. Coan lofted a perfect 36-yard pass to Kevin Austin for the game’s first touchdown and a 10-3 lead. After trading a few more punts, the two squads went to the locker room, with the Irish in control of the ninth-ever Shamrock Series clash.
Tough Third Quarter Changes Momentum
The third quarter was not kind to Notre Dame. The Badgers tied the game on their second drive of the half. Mertz lofted passes of 35 and 15 yards to kickstart the drive, and Wisconsin punched it into the end zone from there. Then Coan went down with injury for the Irish, who couldn’t get any points on the board. Pyne led a promising drive that fizzled out, and then he fumbled on the first play of his second possession under center.
After the fumble, Wisconsin worked its way into the red zone towards the end of the quarter. After Wisconsin’s signature song “Jump Around” blasted through the stadium and energized the student body, the Badgers were able to get close but not into the end zone. They settled for a field goal and a 13-10 fourth-quarter advantage.
Defense, Special Teams Step Up To Clinch Shamrock Series
The Wisconsin section of the stadium was rocking, and with a backup quarterback taking the snaps, things looked more than a little grim. However, running back Chris Tyree ensured there was no need for Pyne to throw one pass. Tyree received the kickoff at the 4-yard line and sprinted diagonally to find a seam on the left side. After a quick juke to beat a man, Tyree turned on the jets and made a house call for a 17-13 lead.
From there, the game snowballed out of control for Wisconsin. Notre Dame’s Jayson Ademilola strip-sacked Graham Mertz on the ensuing Wisconsin drive, giving the Irish a short field. Pyne capitalized, eventually hitting Austin from 16 yards out on a slant, notching his first career touchdown pass. Down 24-13, the Badgers missed a 52-yarder to draw within a possession. Then after the Irish killed a little clock, their defense put the game on ice.
First, Hart secured his second interception, and Notre Dame kicked a field goal to extend the lead to 14 points. Then, linebacker Jack Kiser picked off Mertz and took it to the house for a 21-point advantage. Adding insult to injury, linebacker Drew White notched a pick-six of his own. What was once a 13-10 deficit was now a stunning 41-13 laugher at Soldier Field. While defense and special teams were critical in the victory, the offense did what it needed to do, notching 20 points of their own. They achieved several big goals as a unit. The Irish were aggressive when they needed to be – going 1-1 on 4th down. They also won the time of possession battle against a Wisconsin team that had dominated their previous opponents in that category.
Impressive Depth Gives Irish The Win, And Kelly The Record
The clock ticked down and the Irish celebrated continuing their perfect record in the Shamrock Series with a huge win. It was also Brian Kelly’s record-setting 106th as the Notre Dame coach. He broke a tie with Knute Rockne to set the record with the win.
Pyne put forth an inspired effort for the Irish. In his first extended meaningful action, while wearing the blue and gold, he went 6-8 for 81 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Elsewhere, Lacey was solid in relief of Hinish. Hart recorded his first two career interceptions. Offensively, Austin rebounded from a poor showing versus Purdue with a bounce back two-touchdown effort. In securing a top-20 victory, the Irish showcased championship-level depth to get the job done.
Notre Dame bumped up to No. 9 in the AP Poll with the victory. It sets up a showdown with No. 7 Cincinnati next weekend at Notre Dame Stadium.