Notre Dame football: Brian Kelly makes the most of the Irish in 2021


CHICAGO – Brian Kelly is now Notre Dame’s all-time leader in terms of wins, putting No. 106 on the books on Saturday against a Wisconsin team that fell horribly in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field, resulting in an Irish 41-13 victory. The fact that a guy who arrived in 2010 as a sophisticated offensive quarterback took that landmark victory with three non-offensive touchdowns is perfect, because Kelly has become, above all, a guy who wins games by any means necessary.

Notre Dame scored 41 points on the scoreboard while rushing for three yards. Notre Dame won by walking away with her third-string quarterback playing most of the second half, coming in when the game was up for grabs. Notre Dame hung 31 points for the Badgers in the fourth quarter when she only made 12 offensive plays. Then he celebrated by blowing up Wisconsin’s favorite song, “Jump Around,” in the post-game locker room.

Are the Fighting Irish 4-0 good? Uh. They are definitely not great. At n ° 12 entering the day, they are overrated. If they somehow walk around the college football playoffs this season, it could lead to yet another rash.

But after another weekend of upset carnage, 4-0 is 4-0. Say this for the Irish: they found ways to beat the average competition they faced in September. (Purdue is the only opponent to date to have a Power 5 victory on his CV.)

A poorly trained Notre Dame team would have lost at least one of those September games, whether it was the overtime breakout to horrific Florida State or the white punch to Toledo or that job at Soldier Field, that the Irish led 13-10 before detonating it. open in the fourth. Notre-Dame is not badly trained. Kelly could well be on his way to a fifth straight double-digit winning season with his most faulty team since 2016.

“Everyone is trying to hook the teams up from the start,” Kelly said. “As, who are they? We are still trying to understand each other. I just know we have a resilient group who believe they are going to win.

Kelly said it was a fun discovery process to watch the pieces come together with this team. He’s had four offensive tackles and three QBs and at times every facet of the team has looked bad and then beautiful. At the very least, it wasn’t boring.

“We still have a long way to go,” Kelly said. “But I have fun training them. We’ll be better in November. … Last year we knew what we had. [This year] we try to understand as we go.

Really the Irish must be better 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 possibly the best team they will face all season.

The Irish did Cincinnati a big favor by pulling that game off as they now present a juicier target for a team that needs all the eye-catching wins they can get. Notre Dame will be both highly beatable and highly ranked, the perfect combination.

Who plays the Irish quarterback in this game will be an interesting question. Kelly has had around a million QB controversies in his career, and he did his best to crush what would be the last.

“Jack Coan is our starter,” said Kelly. “If he’s physically capable, he’ll be our starter against Cincinnati.”

It’s unclear if he’ll be physically capable, however. Coan walked out with an ankle injury early in the third quarter, although Kelly said his x-rays showed no fractures and there was not the usual swelling from a high ankle sprain. He hopes Coan will be available, but that remains to be seen.

Substitute Tyler Buchner was a scratch with a hamstring problem, so it was up to third stringer Drew Pyne to step into the fray behind a leaking offensive line and against a vicious Wisconsin defense. Pyne came into the game after attempting three career passes, but did a good job against the Badgers: 6 of 8 for 81 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions.

Pyne was bowled over by Coan’s arrival from Wisconsin, but as Kelly noted, he didn’t go for the transfer portal. Pyne stayed, paid his dues, had 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 pitch, he turned around for one last look at the stadium, soaking up it.

Pyne’s efficiency rating (201.3) was almost double that of Coan (108.9). And both were much better than the guy Wisconsin picked as QB over Coan, Graham Mertz (81.61). He’s had a brutal start to the season, and he’s rocked 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 touchdown. “To put it all on Graham, that would be unfair,” coach Paul Chryst said after the debacle. “I think there are a lot of areas where we need to be better.”

It’s true. Special teams handed out a kick-off return touchdown. The Wisconsin high school dropped some big plays in the passing game. The ball carriers missed no one and did not run more than 10 meters.

But come on. Mertz’s play in the Badgers’ two losses was miserable. Chryst has little choice at this point but to give someone – anyone – else a chance. He would clearly like to have a Drew Pyne on the pin to connect to the lineup.

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One thing about Kelly over the years: His backup QBs are almost always ready to play when given the chance, which is why he’s had so many QB controversies. Despite this promising performance from Pyne, it is understandable why Kelly did not 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, that would be an upset – the rest of the schedule looks manageable. Virginia Tech, USC, North Carolina, Navy, Virginia, Georgia Tech, and Stanford have all been defeated at least once.

It would be the most Brian Kelly thing of all time if one of his most imperfect teams somehow slalom throughout the season unbeaten. But give the most successful coach in Notre Dame history credit for coming this far with a perfect record. He earned that Gatorade dip on Saturday.

More university coverage:

• The SMU player plants a flag on the TCU logo, a fight ensues
• Bowling Green stuns Minnesota as a 31-point dog

• Two generations of gores

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