The No. 18 University of Wisconsin football team was going to have to play its best game in two seasons to earn a win against a talented yet flawed No. 12 Notre Dame.
But instead of the clean game it needed, UW turned the ball over five times, allowed a kick return touchdown and never sustained offense to a point of giving itself a chance. Notre Dame pulled away in the fourth quarter with a 41-13 win at Soldier Field in Chicago and handed the Badgers their seventh consecutive loss against a ranked opponent.
Inconsistent and at times flat-out bad offense plagued UW yet again against a good team. Most surprising was the Badgers’ inability to run the ball with any consistency, gaining just 72 yards on the ground. Some timely big plays with first-down passes helped get UW scoring chances, but the turnovers ended UW’s bid for a big win.
The defensive front dominated the game for the Badgers, but the turnovers gave Notre Dame extra chances, the dam broke in the fourth quarter with Chris Tyree’s 96-yard kick return touchdown.
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A seventh consecutive loss against an AP Top 25 team won’t do the Badgers any favors in terms of their own rankings. It also further dampens UW’s hopes to contend for the Big Ten Conference title after a preseason full of hope and Ohio State looking vulnerable.
UW doesn’t have any time to dwell on its loss before facing a similarly talented Michigan team — ranked just behind the Badgers in the AP poll at No. 19. It’ll be gut-check time for the Badgers after the first 1-2 start under Paul Chryst. A Big Ten West Division title is still in play but it’s hard to imagine the Badgers we saw Saturday being able to string together the necessary wins to do that.
Badgers pass rush
UW’s front seven was in the Notre Dame backfield with regularity and racked up six sacks and three quarterback hurries against an overmatched offensive line. The hits and consistent pressure on ND’s quarterbacks eventually knocked starter Jack Coan out of the game.
Honorable mention: WR Kendric Pryor
THREE KEY PLAYS
1. Cam Hart picks off Mertz, part one
UW took over after Notre Dame had dinked-and-dunked its way to a long field goal with about 6 minutes remaining in the second quarter. The offense needed to give the defense a break with a drive, or get points on the board. It did neither when ND corner Cam Hart got in front of a slant pattern by Kendric Pryor and picked off Mertz’s pass.
Hart made a good play, reading Mertz’s eyes and driving to a spot on the field rather than Pryor’s body. Then he made a good catch while colliding with Pryor. Mertz’s pass was a bit in front of Pryor and there wasn’t going to much room for Pryor to make the catch even if Hart hadn’t played the ball.
Hart’s pick set up Notre Dame’s first-half touchdown, a 36-yard pass from Jack Coan to Kevin Austin. Hart got a second INT in the fourth quarter.
2. Strip sack by Johnson
The Badgers speak often of the need to create turnovers and they did at a critical juncture Saturday. Notre Dame had just gotten the ball near midfield after a UW punt and was looking to break a 10-10 tie.
Johnson knifed through the Notre Dame line and blasted quarterback Drew Pyne in the back, forcing a fumble and bounced toward the Badgers sideline. Senior inside linebacker Jack Sanborn made a diving recovery, keeping himself and the ball in bounds to give the offense the ball.
UW’s offense scored a field goal to take a fourth-quarter lead after Johnson’s play.
3. Chris Tyree kickoff return
The Badgers’ 13-10 lead built after Johnson’s turnover was short lived. As in, it was gone in 13 seconds.
Chris Tyree caught the ensuing kickoff at the 4-yard line on the right side of the field. He made a cut to his left around the 15 and sprinted through a huge lane for a 96-yard return for the go-ahead touchdown. It was the first kick return score allowed by the Badgers since 2011 (Minnesota’s Duane Bennett).
Notre Dame tacked on three more scores off turnovers in the fourth quarter, but Tyree’s kick return swung the game for good.
Catch up on our coverage
Looking for more coverage about the 1-2 Badgers? Jim Polzin was not shy in this week's grades, plus Todd Milewski got some insight on Jack Coan's performance against his old team. Check out the rest of our coverage here: