The University of Wisconsin Badgers enter their third matchup of the college football season sitting at 1-1, ranked 18th in the country. With a week three bye, coach Paul Chryst has some extra time to prepare his squad for a ranked matchup versus No. 12 Notre Dame in week four of the college football season.
In the week two matchup versus Eastern Michigan, the Badgers looked sharp and dominated in a 34-7 victory. The offense was led by the ground game, posting 352 rushing yards and four touchdowns from four different running backs. The defense, despite missing cornerback Faion Hicks and safety Collin Wilder, held Eastern Michigan to 92 total yards and forced an interception.
This performance was a huge boost for the team after coming off a tight 16-10 week one loss to Penn State, in which the offense fell victim to costly turnovers. Both sides of the ball looked much more polished, especially Mertz as he made smart reads and spread the ball across the field.
Despite facing a deep and talented unit in the Fighting Irish next week, the Badgers can feel confident. Notre Dame has proven to be capable of error in each of their three games so far, edging three-point victories over unranked Florida State and Toledo. This weekend, the Irish beat Purdue 27-13 but were out-gained in total yards and had to rely on big plays to generate points.
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Running back Kyren Williams is the biggest threat on the Notre Dame offense, but will face the most talented defensive forefront that he’s seen so far this season. If the Badgers can contain the running game, expect to see our old friend Jack Coan try to pick apart a familiar defense and get revenge on his former team. Coan has had a solid season so far and has come up big for the Irish in a couple late-game situations. He won’t have home field advantage though, as the game is being played at a neutral site in Chicago’s Soldier Field. The Irish have won 26 straight at Notre Dame stadium, the second longest active home win streak, behind Clemson.
Before the Badgers head into this important matchup, let’s take a look at some of the positive aspects so far in the season.
The rushing game so far has been very good and has utilized the deep backfield talent. Chez Mellusi, Isaac Guerendo and Jalen Berger all look to have improved over the off-season, reading blockers well and breaking off for good chunk yardage. Highly-touted freshman running back Braelon Allen scored his first college touchdown against Eastern Michigan, the beginning of what the Badgers hope to be their next elite backfield talent. The offensive line also looks solid as expected, giving Graham Mertz time to operate in the pocket and opening up running lanes for the backs.
On the contrary, the passing game for the Badgers is yet to get off the ground. Mertz struggled against Penn State, throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble. He improved against Eastern Michigan and went 14-17 with 141 yards, but is still yet to throw a touchdown on the season. Expect to see that change against Notre Dame this week, as the run game may not be as effective versus the Irish front.
Even after the Notre Dame game, it won’t be smooth sailing just yet for the Badgers. They face Big Ten rival No. 19 Michigan the following week, and No. 5 Iowa at the end of October.
In order for the Badgers to succeed in the upcoming weeks, they have to rely on what the program is designed to do. Defense is this team’s biggest strong-suit, and they can run with any team in college football. On the offensive side, it is important to continue to run the ball efficiently and open up the field for Mertz to make the throws that everyone knows he is capable of making.
In order for Wisconsin to win this important stretch of games, all of the parts will need to come together and build off one another. Once that happens, this team could be one of the scariest forces in all of college football.