CHICAGO - It was a Gatorade bath kind of victory for Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. The Irish routed Wisconsin 41-13 on Saturday at Soldier Field in the Shamrock Series, giving Kelly his 106th career victory, which is one more victory than Knute Rockne.
Kelly is officially the winningest coach in Irish history.
He walked into his post-game press conference in the bowels of Soldier Field with his hair sticky from the historic day. His players had made sure he didn’t leave the field without getting a shower.
Kelly was happy to have the record in the books.
“I’m just glad it’s over,” he said. “I’m proud of the accomplishment and the level of consistency we’ve played with. From a winning standpoint, we’ve had great players and great coaches and great support from Father Jenkins, who hired me, and Jack Swarbrick, who hired me. We’re all together so I share that with them. But I get more joy from watching the development of a Drew Pyne and a Chris Tyree getting it. That’s why I do this. You don’t do this for 31 years because you’re trying to break Knute Rockne’s record. I mean no disrespect to Knute. I’m just glad it’s over with and we can move on and try to beat Cincinnati next week.”
Even though Wisconsin (1-2) was a 6.5 point favorite and they were ranked No. 18 in the Associated Press, which was six spots behind the Irish (4-0), the victory wasn’t a surprise.
The Irish were superior defensively and it showed.
The defense forced five turnovers. Four of them were interceptions. Jack Kiser and Drew White put on an exclamation point on a lousy day for Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz by returning interceptions for touchdowns for 66 and 48-yards in the fourth quarter. Mertz, who replaced Notre Dame’s Jack Coan at quarterback in 2020 after Coan was injured, was 18 of 41 passing for 240 yards and four interceptions.
Coan was injured in the third quarter and replaced by Drew Pyne.
Pyne is listed as the backup quarterback but he’s really the third-string quarterback. Tyler Buchner, their backup, was unavailable because of a hamstring injury, according to Kelly. Coan hurt his ankle and Kelly said he expects him to return.
It was looking bleak for the Irish after Wisconsin recovered a Pyne fumble at the 39 and then scored on a 27-yard field goal by Collin Lash with 3:44 left in the third quarter. That gave the Badgers a 13-10 lead.
The mood changed in an instant.
It started with a 96-yard TD run by Chris Tyree on the kickoff after Lash’s field goal.
It was a huge momentum boost for the Irish, who struggled with Payne on his first few series.
Notre Dame would eventually score 31 straight points.
“Heck ya, “ Kelly said when asked if that changed the energy on the sidelines. “And when they played “Jump Around”, it seemed like we thought that was our fight song and we started playing better. I don’t know. We got to check with our guys on that.”
Pyne, who finished 6 of 8 passing for 81 yards, had his moment when he hit Kevin Austin with a 16-yard TD pass with 9:34 left. That gave ND a 24-13 lead.
Kelly said Pyne is a classic example of a guy that just hung in there and didn’t leave when Coan transferred. Kelly said Pyne got 40% of the reps in practice this week because they knew that Buchner wasn’t playing.
“Drew Pyne is a great example in my opinion of how we do our business in our program,” Kelly said. “We bring in a transfer and he doesn’t put his name in the portal. What he does is say that I’m going to prepare myself to be the best version of Drew Pyne and when my number is called, I’m going to be ready,” he said. “I see that every day in practice.”
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