CHICAGO – Brian Kelly is now Notre Dame’s all-time leader in victories, placing No. 106 on the books Saturday against a Wisconsin team that gruesomely collapsed in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field, resulting in a 41-13 Irish win. The fact that a guy who came in 2010 as a classy offensive strategist landed this historic victory with three non-offensive touchdowns is perfect, because Kelly has become, above all, a game-winning guy by whatever means necessary.
Notre Dame scored 41 points on the scoreboard while rushing for three yards. Notre Dame won and left with their third quarterback playing most of the second half, coming in when the game was up for grabs. Notre Dame hung 31 over the Badgers in the fourth quarter while making only 12 offensive plays. He then celebrated with Wisconsin’s favorite song, “Jump Around,” in the postgame locker room.
Are the Fighting Irish 4-0 good? Hey. They are certainly not great. At number 12 going into the day, they are overrated. If they somehow make their way into the college football playoffs again this season, it could result in another gaze-deflection explosion.
But after another weekend of carnage, 4-0 is 4-0. Say this for the Irish – they found ways to beat the average competition they faced this September. (Purdue is the only opponent to date to have a Power 5 win on his resume.)
A poorly trained Notre Dame team would have lost at least one of these September games, be it the overtime break against horrible Florida State or the white knuckle against Toledo or this job at Soldier Field, which the Irish lost 13- 10 before ruining it. open in the room. Notre Dame is not badly trained. Kelly may well be on his way to a fifth straight season of double-digit wins with his most flawed team since 2016.
“Everybody is trying to link teams from the beginning,” Kelly said. “Like, Who are they? We are still trying to understand ourselves. I just know that we have a tough group that believes they are going to win. “
Kelly said it has been a fun discovery process to see how the pieces come together with this team. He’s been through four offensive tackles and three quarterbacks and, at times, every facet of the team has looked bad, and then it has looked good. At least it hasn’t been boring.
“We still have a long way to go,” Kelly said. “But I’m having fun training them. We will be better in November. … Last year we found out what we had. [This year] we are trying to solve it on the fly. “
The Irish really need to improve in October. Because Cincinnati is coming to South Bend next Saturday. The Bearcats are by far the best team Notre Dame has faced so far, and perhaps the best team they will face all season.
The Irish did Cincinnati a huge favor by putting out this game, because now they present a juicier goal for a team that needs all the flashy wins it can get. Notre Dame will be both highly beatable and highly ranked, the perfect combination.
Who plays quarterback for the Irish in that game will be an interesting question. Kelly has had roughly a million quarterback controversies in his career, and he did his best to crush what would be his last.
“Jack Coan is our starter,” Kelly said. “If he’s physically capable, he’ll be our starter against Cincinnati.”
However, it is not clear if he will be physically fit. Coan came out with an ankle injury early in the third quarter, although Kelly said his X-rays showed no fractures and that there is not the usual swelling of a high ankle sprain. He’s hopeful that Coan will be available, but that remains to be seen.
Backup Tyler Buchner was scratched with a hamstring problem, so it was up to third stringer Drew Pyne to enter the fray behind a leaky offensive line and against a vicious Wisconsin defense. Pyne came into the game after trying three career passes, but he did a good job against the Badgers: 6-of-8 for 81 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions.
Pyne fell into the depth chart for Coan’s arrival from Wisconsin, but as Kelly pointed out, he did not opt for the transfer portal. Pyne stayed, paid his dues, got his chance, and walked out of Soldier Field with a slice of Notre Dame glory. You can tell it meant something to him; when he left the field, he turned around to take one last look at the stadium, drenching it.
Pyne’s (201.3) efficiency rating was almost double that of Coan’s (108.9). And both were far better than the boy Wisconsin chose as its quarterback over Coan, Graham Mertz (81.61). He’s had a brutal start to the season and hit rock bottom here.
Mertz threw four interceptions, the last two of which were returned for touchdowns, and lost a fumble. For the season he now has six picks and one TD. “Putting everything on Graham, it would be unfair,” coach Paul Chryst said after this debacle. “I think there are many areas where we need to improve.”
That’s true. Special teams delivered a kickoff return touchdown. The Wisconsin high school gave up some big plays in the passing game. The runners made no one miss and ran no more than 10 yards.
But we go. Mertz’s play in the Badgers’ two losses has been miserable. Chryst has no choice at the moment but to give someone, anyone else a chance. He clearly would love to have a Drew Pyne in the handstand to connect him to the lineup.
One thing about Kelly over the years: His backup quarterbacks are almost always ready to act when given the chance, which is one of the reasons he’s had so many quarterback controversies. Despite this promising performance from Pyne, you can understand why Kelly didn’t hesitate to declare her support for Coan. A guy making his first career start against the Cincinnati defense wouldn’t be ideal.
If the Irish can upset the Bearcats, yes it would be a dislike, the rest of the schedule seems manageable. Virginia Tech, USC, North Carolina, Navy, Virginia, Georgia Tech, and Stanford have been hit at least once.
It would be the most Brian Kelly if one of his most flawed teams somehow went through the season undefeated. But credit the winningest coach in Notre Dame history for going this far with a perfect record. He earned that Gatorade bath on the sidelines on Saturday.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.