Game Recap: Wisconsin

Author: Meghan Cappitelli

The 2021 home-away-from-home Shamrock Series took place quite close to South Bend this past September, as the Fighting Irish traveled just 90 miles to play at Soldier Field in downtown Chicago. Matching up against the Wisconsin Badgers, No. 12 Notre Dame headed into the game with an appetite to win what would be their 10th victory in the series since its inception in 2009. The Irish-Badger matchup had been long awaited after the 2020 game scheduled to be played at Lambeau Field was canceled and rescheduled for 2026. 

The game was expected to be a close one, with most predictions favoring Wisconsin, but the Irish soon made it known to the sold-out stadium that they intended to win — and by a fourth-quarter landslide, at that. Much of the pre-game hype and anticipation was focused on Notre Dame’s quarterback, Jack Coan, a graduate transfer who spent the first four years of his football career playing for Wisconsin. He finished his time with the Badgers with a 12-6 record and joined the Fighting Irish for the 2021 season. 

Coan started the game, but failed to lead the Irish to the end zone for the entirety of the first quarter. Wisconsin’s Collin Larsh kicked a 37-yard field goal, giving the Badgers a 3-0 lead that the team would maintain until halfway into the second quarter. Kicker Jonathan Doerer, after missing a 39-yard field goal earlier in the game, sent a 52-yarder through the uprights, tying the game for the Irish. At the close of the first half, the Irish raked in another seven points, courtesy of a picture-perfect pass by Coan. 

This would be the last of Coan’s touchdown throws, as he left the game injured and locker room-bound after being sacked for a fifth time. Drew Pyne, Notre Dame’s third-string quarterback, came in for Coan halfway into the third quarter. Prior to Coan’s injury, the Badgers knotted the game at 10-10 and were out-gaining Notre Dame 167 to 149 in total yards. Now a tie game, there was an additional pressure on Pyne to perform if Notre Dame was going to secure the victory. 

The game’s stalemate came to an end in the first 60 seconds of the fourth quarter, as Graham Mertz threw an incomplete pass and the Badgers settled for a field goal. This proved the spark that ignited the offense in the remaining 14 minutes of the game. The slow and steady rhythm that had persisted through the first three quarters was squashed, as the Irish quickly took the lead when Chris Tyree dashed 96 yards for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff to spark a Notre Dame scoring run. Pyne added another touchdown on the following possession, widening the gap to 24-13. 

But the Fighting Irish were not done yet. With less than three minutes to go, Notre Dame linebacker Jack Kiser sealed the deal with an interception and subsequent 66-yard return for another Notre Dame touchdown. 

One pick-six, however, was not enough, as yet another one of Mertz’s passes was intercepted by Drew White, who sprinted 45 yards for another Irish touchdown. Notre Dame scored 31 points in the fourth quarter, making the Badgers’ 13-10 third quarter lead a foggy memory, and Notre Dame rounded out their 10th Shamrock Series triumph quite nicely with a 41-13 victory. 

The cherry on top of this momentous weekend was enjoyed by former head coach Brian Kelly, whose record with the Irish took a historic leap. The win over the Badgers was Kelly’s 106th victory, claiming Knute Rockne’s formerly-held title as winningest coach in Fighting Irish program history. The players honored the feat by dousing Coach Kelly in a celebratory green Gatorade shower.