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Grading the Badgers: Offense earns failing grade, special teams and coaching get low marks in loss to Notre Dame
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Grading the Badgers: Offense earns failing grade, special teams and coaching get low marks in loss to Notre Dame

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Jim Polzin grades the Wisconsin Badgers’ performance in their 41-13 loss to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Soldier Field in Chicago.

The University of Wisconsin quarterback took responsibility for the offense's shortcomings in the Badgers' 41-13 loss to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Saturday at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Offense: F

The Badgers averaged 2.6 yards per rushing attempt and went 1 of 14 on third down — and that’s not even the worst part. Quarterback Graham Mertz had five turnovers, including four interceptions. UW finally had some big plays through the air — 43 yards to tight end Clay Cundiff, 35 to tailback Chez Mellusi and 22 to wide receiver Kendric Pryor. But there was far more bad on a day Mertz finished with 23 incompletions.

Defense: B

UW allowed 242 yards and only 3.5 per play. Jim Leonhard’s unit was on the field for only two of Notre Dame’s five touchdowns. The Badgers did a solid job of limiting big plays, had six sacks and forced a turnover. UW should have had another one and it could have turned into a touchdown, but safety Scott Nelson dropped a Jack Coan pass in the open field in the first quarter.

Special teams: D-

Returner Dean Engram let a punt go over his head late in the first half and it cost UW 20-plus yards in field position. Collin Larsh made a couple of mid-range field goals but was wide left on a 52-yard attempt that would have made it a one-score game in the fourth quarter. But the biggest play of the game was a 96-yard kickoff return by Chris Tyree that gave the Fighting Irish the lead for good early in the fourth quarter. UW kicked to the corner to try to trap Tyree, but Notre Dame had a field return called and Tyree broke through a huge hole before cruising past kicker Jack Van Dyke en route to the end zone.

Coaching: D

Paul Chryst’s offense continues to be a failure. The Badgers have averaged 8.6 points in five losses since the start of the 2020 season. Chryst played it safe early in the fourth quarter, calling back-to-back running plays after UW had gotten to the Notre Dame 11. Settling for a field goal seemed like an OK strategy considering it gave UW a 13-10 lead and the defense was playing so well. But then came a catastrophic breakdown from Chris Haering’s special teams unit.  

The Badgers safety didn't mince words after No. 18 UW fell to No. 12 Notre Dame 41-13 on Saturday at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Overall: D+

The worst part about this loss — and safety Collin Wilder said it afterward — was how a close game turned into an embarrassing score line in such a hurry. It was a pitiful fourth quarter from a team that had a signature victory in its hands with 14-plus minutes to play in the game.

BY THE NUMBERS

3: UW's defense only allowed 3 yards rushing. That's the eighth-best effort all-time in Badgers history. The Fighting Irish ran the ball 32 times. The last time the Badgers held an opposing team to fewer yards rushing was Aug. 31, 2000, against Western Michigan, which was held to -1 yard on 20 attempts.

2: Notre Dame returned two interceptions for touchdowns in a game for the first time since 2002 against Stanford.

41: UW's 41 pass attempts were the most since the Badgers attempted 42 in their loss at Northwestern last season.

0: Notre Dame never has lost at Solider Field. The Fighting Irish improved to 11-0-2 at the home of the NFL's Chicago Bears.

Contact Jim Polzin at jpolzin@madison.com.

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