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There are many ways to look at Saturday’s contest between No. 18 Wisconsin and No. 12 Notre Dame.
Notre Dame starting quarterback Jack Coan was once the Badger signal-caller, Wisconsin has struggled recently in games against ranked opponents, the Badger defense has continued its absolute dominance and Notre Dame sits at 3-0 despite a few close calls against poor opponents.
No matter how you choose to look at the game, there is a large collection of numbers to know entering Saturday.
Here are some of those numbers to note as Saturday continues to near:
Dec 5, 2020; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; A general view prior to the game between the Indiana Hoosiers and Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
1964 marks the last meeting between these two programs. For more on their series history
66.7 vs. 62.6
Sep 5, 2021; Tallahassee, Florida, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Jack Coan (17) runs with the ball during the second quarter against the Florida State Seminoles at Doak S. Campbell Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports
Everybody knows Jack Coan as a consistent thrower of the football, good decision-maker and someone who always has an impressive completion percentage. But upon further review, Graham Mertz's completion percentage this season is actually higher. https://twitter.com/benzkenney/status/1440750964982509579 That said, the obvious difference between the two QBs is that second stat: adjusted yards-per-attempt. Jack Coan is pushing the ball downfield a lot more than Mertz & has found a lot of success in that regard.
Sep 18, 2021; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Avery Davis (3) runs Into the end zone for a touchdown in front of Purdue Boilermakers safety Chris Jefferson (17) in the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
From my piece on five statistics that will define the contest:
The final stat to watch throughout Saturday’s contest: Notre Dame plays of 30+ yards. Check out how Notre Dame scored touchdowns against Purdue last weekend in a game that was a lot tighter than the final score shows: –Kyren Williams 39-yard pass from Jack Coan for a touchdown: –Avery Davis 62-yard pass from Jack Coan for a touchdown: –Kyren Williams carries 51 yards for a touchdown: That’s three total touchdowns that averaged more than 50 yards. Just like what we saw against Penn State, Wisconsin’s defense has a winnable matchup up front and overall (that’s a credit to Wisconsin’s stellar defense more than anything). How the Badgers can be beat, though, is like what we saw against the Nittany Lions: big plays over the top and chunk plays from the offense’s stars. If Jim Leonhard’s defense can eliminate plays like are seen above, his defense shouldn’t have trouble putting together an impressive performance.
Sep 18, 2021; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Kyren Williams (23) runs the ball on a punt return in the fourth quarter against the Purdue Boilermakers at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
That's Notre Dame RB Kyren Williams' yards-per-carry if you eliminate 2 carries that went for 94 yards. https://twitter.com/ToddFuhrman/status/1440426342177067013?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1440426342177067013%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fbadgerswire.usatoday.com%2Flists%2Ffive-statistics-that-will-decide-the-winner-of-wisconsin-vs-notre-dame%2F
Stopping Williams on early downs will be key for Wisconsin. Same as when Coan was the Badgers quarterback, Notre Dame looks to push forward on early downs and set up their quarterback in manageable 3rd-and-short opportunities—which Coan is known to excel at. The approach to this game is similar to how the Badgers entered Week 1’s contest against Penn State: Wisconsin must eliminate Notre Dame’s early-down running game from the contest if they want to then contain the offense’s weapons in the second level.
Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton (14) celebrates an interception during the fourth quarter of an NCAA football game, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Credit: Nikos Frazier / Journal & Courier-Imagn Content Services, LLC
That's the number of Notre Dame star safety Kyle Hamilton. From my piece on Wisconsin's big area of concern on Saturday:
We saw in Week 1 what an impact safety can do against Graham Mertz and the Wisconsin offense. Penn State Jaquan Brisker had an absolute day, capped off by a clutch fourth-quarter interception on the goal line. Notre Dame has that impact safety in Kyle Hamilton—a player heralded as one of the best in the country and one of the highest-rated NFL Draft prospects. So where will that big area of concern be for the Wisconsin offense? Wherever No. 14 is playing. Whether it’s deep in the secondary, on the line of scrimmage or in the middle of the field, Mertz must keep the ball away from Hamilton at all costs. Through two games the star safety recorded 11 tackles, 2 tackles-for-loss and 2 interceptions. His Week 1 interception against Florida State shows all you need to know about his range and playmaking ability... Wisconsin’s offense should be able to find success on the ground against Notre Dame. But when they reach the red zone and other critical down-and-distance situations, Hamilton is sure to cause the unit absolute fits. We’ll see whether Mertz will be up to the task this time around.
6 vs. 1
Sep 28, 2019; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa (95) is tackled by Virginia Cavaliers quarterback Bryce Perkins (3) after he recovered a Perkins fumble in the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
The Notre Dame defense and their star Hamilton have forced 6 turnovers through three contests---5 interceptions and 1 forced fumble. Wisconsin, on the other hand, only has one takeaway through two contests---a late-game interception against Eastern Michigan. Turnovers could decide Saturday's contest, and it's been Notre Dame that's proven to be more opportunistic in that regard.
Sep 4, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) throws a pass under pressure from Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Curtis Jacobs (23) during the second quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
That's Wisconsin's record this year and last when Graham Mertz has thrown an interception. From five stats that will define the game:
In case you were wondering what that math adds up to, they are 5-0 when he does not throw an interception. Kyle Hamilton will present a scary test for Mertz’s accuracy and decision-making, especially in the red zone. If Mertz can avoid throwing him the football, and throwing away the game, Wisconsin has everything necessary to win the game. If turnovers continue to plague the Badger quarterback (I’m including fumbles and failed red zone handoffs in this equation), Wisconsin will continue to have a tough time finding a way to win.
4 vs. 0
Sep 4, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers tight end Jake Ferguson (84) is tackled after catching a pass during the first quarter against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Wisconsin star tight end Jake Ferguson caught 4 touchdown passes last season, proving to be a critical security blanket for Mertz as well as a lethal red-zone threat. This year we haven't seen that connection succeed in the red zone quite yet. For Wisconsin to finally have its first passing touchdown of the season, Ferguson will need to be that guy.
Wisconsin Badgers football's Chez Mellusi (6) scores Wisconsinâ€™s only touchdown of the day against Penn State during their game Saturday, September 4, 2021 in Madison, Wis. Penn State won the game 16-10. Doug Raflik/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Through 3 halves of football (eliminating the second have vs. Eastern Michigan), Wisconsin scored points on just 44% of its red-zone possessions (4/9) The offense did a tremendous job moving the ball between the 20s, though when the team got down into the red zone it was penalties and untimely mistakes that ended up costing them the Week 1 game vs. Penn State. That rate will need to change on Saturday.
Sep 11, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Jalen Berger (8) rushes for a touchdown during the second quarter against the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jalen Berger has appeared in five games thus far in his career. His final carry total in every one of those games: 15. We'll see what Paul Chryst decides to do with the backfield now with several players proving to be dependable.
Sep 4, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Paul Chryst talks with quarterback Graham Mertz (5) during the third quarter against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
That's Wisconsin's record in the team's last six games against ranked opponents. The last win? November 30, 2019 at Minnesota.
Sep 11, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Paul Chryst looks on during the fourth quarter against the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Paul Chryst's Wisconsin teams have won 60% of their post-bye week contests.
Sep 18, 2021; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly leaves the field after defeating the Purdue Boilermakers at Notre Dame Stadium. The win was his 105th as Notre Dame coach and tied Kelly for most wins at Notre Dame with Knute Rockne. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Kelly will have his first shot Saturday at breaking Notre Dame's record for most all-time wins as a head coach. Last weekend's triumph over Purdue gave the head coach 105, tieing him with Notre Dame legend Knute Rockne.