When Notre Dame takes on Wisconsin this weekend it will likely be the program's toughest game away from home this season.
Apparently, the bettors don’t believe the Irish (3-0), ranked No. 12 by the Associated Press and No. 10 in the Coaches Poll, are better than Wisconsin (1-1). The Badgers are ranked No. 15 in the Coaches Poll and No. 18 in the AP Poll. Wisconsin was a 5.5-point favorite on Monday night, according to SI Sportsbook.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly called the Badgers “consistently among the very best programs in the country every year.”
The Badgers lost their first game at home to Penn State by a 16-10 score. It wasn’t a typical Wisconsin game.
Sophomore quarterback Graham Mertz threw two interceptions. There was also a fumble.
It was typical in this sense for Wisconsin; the Badgers held the ball for 42:24.
Kelly said the Irish defense will be tested by an elite offensive line that is anchored by senior tackles Tyler Beach and Logan Bruss. Beach, who plays left tackle, was Honorable Mention All-Big Ten in 2020 while Bruss was a third-team Big Ten selection.
“Their identity is about being smart, physical, and a ball-control team,” Kelly said. “They had 95 snaps against Penn State. They control the football and really, in a lot of ways had that game in their control. They made some mistakes in the red zone, but it's really an outstanding football team.
"It's a veteran football team and a veteran offensive line that controls the line of scrimmage," continued Kelly. "We were talking about it in the coordinator's meeting this morning. They resemble Navy in that they control the clock and force you to be so efficient on the offensive side of the ball. You have to get them off the field and it's difficult to get them off the field.”
Kelly is very impressed with Badger quarterback Graham Mertz.
"(Mertz) has all the tools," noted the Irish head coach. "He can run, he’s got arm strength and he’s athletic.”
Running back Chez Mellusi, a junior transfer from Clemson, has rushed for 265 yards in the first two games. Jalen Berger, a redshirt freshman fullback, has averaged 4.2 yards per carry in the first two games.
Defensively, Wisconsin is very good and big all over. Junior nose guard Keenau Benton is 6-4 317-pounds and both of its starting ends weigh at least 291 pounds. Inside linebacker Leo Chenal returns to the lineup, adding a 6-2, 261-pounder to the front seven. Penn State only averaged 2.8 yards per carry rushing the ball against the Badgers.
“He's got some big fellas up front,” Kelly said. “It starts with Benton at the nose. He’s a great two-gap player. He'll be difficult. We'll have to do some things in terms of neutralizing him. I think it’s as instinctive and disciplined of linebackers that we will see this year. They are well-coached, smart, disciplined, and physical. It’s all the things that we all know about Wisconsin, but they come to light every game you watch. It'll be a great challenge for our football team. It’s one that we're excited about. Again, going to Chicago, playing in Soldier Field. Chicago is a great base for us and Notre Dame fans.”
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