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Irish vs. Badgers: A heavyweight clash

by The Associated Press | September 25, 2021 at 2:27 a.m.
Notre Dame’s offensive line is in a state of transition as the No. 12 Fighting Irish prepare to take on No. 18 Wisconsin today at Soldier Field in Chicago. (AP/Michael Conroy)

When it comes to producing NFL-quality offensive linemen, Notre Dame and Wisconsin have been among the best programs in the country.

The Fighting Irish have 12 offensive linemen on NFL rosters to start this season and the Badgers have eight.

Quality offensive line play has become such an identifiable part of the success at Notre Dame and Wisconsin that both teams' linemen landed an endorsement deal with a barbecue restaurant chain this summer.

Big men on campus, indeed.

No. 12 Notre Dame (3-0) faces No. 18 Wisconsin (1-1) today at Solider Field in Chicago in a game being billed as the Jack Coan Bowl for the former Badgers quarterback who now starts for the Irish.

But the guys lining up in front of Coan have been the big story at Notre Dame. One of the nation's top offensive line factories has struggled to get its latest model fully operational.

After replacing four linemen currently on NFL rosters, the Fighting Irish have permitted 14 sacks, tied for second-most in the country, and have not been opening holes for the running game. Wisconsin's defense will be the toughest test yet for Notre Dame's rebuilt line.

"No doubt. We're still going to show up, though," Irish Coach Brian Kelly said with a laugh.

Notre Dame as had three different starters at left tackle after highly touted freshman Blake Fisher was injured in the opener against Florida State. He remains out and his initial replacement, Michael Carmody, is a game-time decision, Kelly said.

The Irish are simultaneously trying to find the best combination of players up front and developing depth with inexperienced players such as sophomore Tosh Baker, who started at left tackle last week, and freshman Joe Alt. Kelly said he is optimistic about the future with these players, but the reality is the future is now.

"So, look, we are transitioning on the offensive line, but we are so excited about the young players and the veterans that are playing their butts off as as we go through this transition on the offensive line," Kelly said.

The Badgers come into the game with only four sacks, but they get back one of their best pass rushers in linebacker Leo Chenal, who missed the first two games after testing positive for covid-19. Chenal had three sacks in seven games last season and should bolster Wisconsin's edge rush to go along with the interior push from tackles Matt Henningsen and Keeanu Benton.

"He's kind of freaky, athletic, we know that," Badgers defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said of Chenal. "He's an imposing guy playing that position. Find ways to get him downhill and wreck a game for an offense."

Wisconsin's Chez Mellusi celebrates his touchdown run during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Penn State Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Madison, Wis. Penn State won 16-10. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Wisconsin's Chez Mellusi celebrates his touchdown run during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Penn State Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Madison, Wis. Penn State won 16-10. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly walks to a huddle as his team plays Toledo in the second half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. Notre Dame won 32-29. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly walks to a huddle as his team plays Toledo in the second half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. Notre Dame won 32-29. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Eastern Michigan's Freddie McGee III breaks up a pass intended for Wisconsin's Danny Davis III during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Eastern Michigan's Freddie McGee III breaks up a pass intended for Wisconsin's Danny Davis III during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst watches during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Eastern Michigan Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst watches during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Eastern Michigan Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Notre Dame wide receiver Avery Davis (3) makes a catch on his way to a touchdown against Purdue during the second half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. Notre Dame defeated Purdue 27-13. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Notre Dame wide receiver Avery Davis (3) makes a catch on his way to a touchdown against Purdue during the second half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. Notre Dame defeated Purdue 27-13. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams (23) runs in for a touchdown in front of Purdue linebacker Jalen Graham (6) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams (23) runs in for a touchdown in front of Purdue linebacker Jalen Graham (6) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Notre Dame wide receiver Avery Davis (3) makes a catch between Purdue safety Cam Allen (10) and linebacker Jalen Graham (6) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Notre Dame wide receiver Avery Davis (3) makes a catch between Purdue safety Cam Allen (10) and linebacker Jalen Graham (6) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Print Headline: Irish vs. Badgers: A heavyweight clash

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