CHICAGO — There was part of Leo Chenal that couldn’t help but be happy Saturday.
Chenal finally was able to get his junior season as an inside linebacker for the University of Wisconsin football team underway after he missed the first two games due to a positive COVID-19 test. With the bye week adding to his time off, Chenal was more than ready to get onto the game field.
But the competitive side of Chenal wouldn’t allow the happiness of playing to come through much after a 41-13 loss against Notre Dame. It didn’t matter that Chenal led the team in tackles or that he showed the disruptive nature of his play against a good team — what mattered to Chenal was a loss that he and other Badgers leaders called “embarrassing.”
“I mean I felt like I personally had a slow start,” Chenal said. “I loved the whole atmosphere, but for me personally I had a slow start. Too many missed tackles and just a lot of things to learn from.”
Chenal had eight tackles, six of them solo efforts, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble in his season debut. His return was vital to the success UW’s defense had through three quarters against the Irish before turnovers gave Notre Dame short fields and it took advantage. Chenal’s forced fumble came against Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams when the Irish had the ball at UW’s 10-yard line, but Williams was able to fall on the loose ball.
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“It was good to have him back,” senior inside linebacker Jack Sanborn said. “He’s my brother and I was happy to have him back. I thought he played well.”
Added senior safety Scott Nelson: “He was normal Leo — disruptive, flying to the ball, playmaker. Doing anything he can to help our team play better and help our team win. We know we’re going to get that every time.
Though he didn’t get any of the Badgers’ six sacks, Chenal provided valuable pass rush up the middle and on delayed rushes that contributed to the pressure Notre Dame’s quarterbacks felt.
Teammates said Chenal has brought his usual energy back to the inside linebacker group since he was able to begin practicing during the bye week. But Chenal said he could feel the effects of his COVID-19 recovery during the game.
“I probably was a little more tired than I should’ve have been,” he said. “It’s been two weeks. I’ll get better from there. Just working through it.
“I think the lungs can be a little better. No excuses. I’m going to play my hardest.”
Chenal said his COVID symptoms were mild and gone within a day after he tested positive on Sept. 3, the day before UW hosted Penn State in the season opener. Chenal has not publicly disclosed his vaccination status.
The most difficult part about isolating after his diagnosis was the inability to train, Chenal said.
“I was just doing a lot of maintenance, stretching. I got a little nauseous every time I tried to work out. Just working on little things, doing as much as I can without actually going full go,” he said.
From the way he spoke about his performance, Chenal made clear that it was just a start and he expects himself to be more productive going forward. After ranking second in tackles last season and leading the team in sacks, adding a healthier Chenal to UW’s defense will only help it continue to keep the Badgers in games.
Chenal getting closer to full strength will be imperative this week when the Badgers host Michigan at 11 a.m. Saturday. Not only because the Wolverines are 4-0, ranked in the AP Top 25 and are rushing for nearly 291 yards per game, but because the Badgers may be thin at the inside linebacker position. Senior Mike Maskalunas and redshirt freshman Jordan Turner were both unavailable against Notre Dame.
Multiple Badgers players discussed not allowing the lopsided score against the Irish to compound further by carrying it into next week, and Chenal said he’d be taking cues from the team’s leaders.
“It’s just about not looking at this game and giving up,” Chenal said. “It’s about building back because we know how good we can be. So we’ve just got to keep our chin up. But also apply pressure to ourselves. All of us (need) that sense of urgency.”
Badgers fans can't hide frustration on Twitter after Wisconsin routed by Notre Dame
Big-time let down
😔 the words I gotta hear from my teammates later— F L ⚡️ S H (@Melvingordon25) September 25, 2021
Howling for some help
Is it time to give Wolf a shot next week? What do you have to lose?— Bob Spoerl (@bobspoerl) September 25, 2021
Headed in the wrong direction
It’s time for the new athletic director to take a serious look at the head coach and recruiting. The program is on a downward trend. Worst offense I’ve witnessed at Wisconsin since the late 1980’s. Zero jet sweeps. No passing early on first downs. That’s coaching.— Jeff Ostach (@jeff_ostach) September 25, 2021
Drawing a line in the sand
If the O line doesn't improve quickly this season will be a complete disaster. They control the run game. The run game controls the pass game. Mertz needs to improve a lot too. The D is great. Special teams are a lot better than previous years. They have what it take to win.— Ryan in Mukwonago (@BadgerFan1976) September 25, 2021
Buckle up for a bumpy ride
This is a poor team. Offensive line is one of worst i have seen at wisconsin. QB looks so confused on 90% of plays. No run game.— Nick Conrad (@bigconny019) September 25, 2021
Defense gets worn down.
This is just a very poor team. Going to be a lonnnng year.
Looking for a little flair
Where did the trickery go? The end around or fake end arounds, the crazy amount of pre snap motions. They had one trick play like that today and Mellusi broke it and they scored on that possession.— Marcus S. Horton (@MarkyMark03) September 25, 2021
Just a few minor flaws
We can't run the ball. We can't pass the ball. We hang our defense out to dry. Other than that, we're doing great.— Craig Smith (@smithcp1) September 25, 2021
Trouble from top to bottom
2/2. You never want to overreact to a bad game (or two). But the team I see is predictable on offense and not talented enough to make up for it. The defense is being wasted. Wisconsin’s issues look deeper than weaknesses at one position group.— Joseph Britt (@Zathras3) September 25, 2021
As bad as it gets
I was at the 59-0 loss to Ohio State in 2014. This was ten times more embarrassing.— Bill Pfeiffer (@billt209) September 25, 2021
Aiding the enemy
I was aware Coan played for ND. Was surprised Mertz does also.— Eric (@EricJamesS21) September 25, 2021
Offensive mind wanted
It’s time Chryst brings in an outside mind to be his OC. He simply doesn’t have it in 2021 to coach up the QB’s and game plan a modern day passing attack or scheme that does anything but stress the defense with power runs. Great HC/leader, but not the offensive answer any more— Andrew Zimdars (@andrew_zimdars) September 25, 2021
Both teams would like to have Coan back on UW's roster.— Phil Censky (@CenskyPhil) September 25, 2021
You're not alone
I have been following the Badgers for almost 60 years. Chryst is a good coach. However, I really wish that Coan was still there— John Husmoe (@JohnHusmoe) September 25, 2021
A little slice of home
At least the fans were able to Jump Around.— mike kerry (@BadgerMike) September 25, 2021
You never know what you've got till its gone
I did not appreciate Scott Tolzien enough— Tyler Shulfer (@tylershulfer) September 25, 2021
It comes with the territory
Woof, asking for "thoughts" feels dangerous after this one 🥺🤬— Scott Hettenbach (@Hetty714) September 25, 2021
Your heart goes out
I feel sorry for the D— Fred Ehle (@FredEhle) September 25, 2021
Worst O of the Chryst era
Is chase wolf worse than this?
Ready for a new approach
Major coaching adjustments on offense!— Nate Berg (@bergn65) September 25, 2021
There's still hope, right?
😂— Stuart Henning (@badgerfan82) September 25, 2021
Beware of dog!
Mertz isn’t good, Chrysts play calling isn’t good. Mess— ArtieHo (@ArtieHo2) September 25, 2021
In need of an overhaul
Offense is atrocious. Need a new scheme and QB— Chad Weinfurter (@chadweinfurter) September 25, 2021
Throwing in the towel?
Was it just me or did it look like the rest of the offense was sort of OK with letting that last interception be returned for a touchdown? If so that is the most concerning thing of all in a game with numerous concerns.— Tom Nicholas (@NicholasCSI) September 25, 2021
That is ... correct
Defense gave up 242 yards offense gained 318 and lost 41 to 13 . ND had 3 yards rushing!!!!— marcus (@minkus1818) September 25, 2021