Chryst, Badgers ready for clash with Irish at Soldier Field
Nate Moller | Friday, September 24, 2021
When No. 12 Notre Dame and No. 18 Wisconsin play at Soldier Field on Saturday, everyone will be drawn to the quarterback matchup between Jack Coan and Graham Mertz. Before transferring to Notre Dame this year, Coan led the Badgers to a Rose Bowl berth in 2019. He was likely slated for the starting role for the Badgers last season before an injury gave Mertz the starting the job.
Although the storylines between the quarterbacks will fill the news ahead of the game, Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst understands the importance of focusing on the team matchup instead of the individual headlines.
“Obviously there is a storyline, but it is important that at the end of the day, it is Wisconsin versus Notre Dame,” Chryst said. “Obviously, we respect Jack as a person, player, teammate and appreciate what he did here, but it is Wisconsin versus Notre Dame.”
When asked about how Coan has looked in the Notre Dame system so far, Chryst didn’t say much, but applauded him for his work ethic.
“As you watch and you see it, [Coan] is with a different team, and yet he is going to always work and continue to work to improve,” Chryst said.
When asked whether Coan playing for Notre Dame was an advantage or disadvantage for his team, Chryst once again stressed the importance of the team as a whole and said he viewed the situation as neither advantageous or disadvantageous.
“It’s not just a one- or two-person show. It’s two teams going to play, but I think that’s probably what overrides it more than anything,” Chryst said.
Chryst said he hopes Mertz will be able to focus on the matchup against Notre Dame and not get caught up in the quarterback showdown with Coan.
“I think we all understand the storyline that’s out there,” Chryst said. “I think it is up to Graham and our whole team to know that what’s awesome about football is, it’s a team sport. It’s going to take our team going up against a very good Notre Dame team, and that is where the game is going to be played.”
Chryst discussed how Mertz has worked to become more poised in the pocket as the year has progressed.
“I think he is working through it. I think there are times where he has done that, and I think there are times early on where he wasn’t as poised in the pocket. He does a good job at practice when those situations occur in trying to address it,” Chryst said. “I think it’s a work in progress, but I think he is progressing.”
Junior safety Kyle Hamilton has been the anchor of the Irish defense all season, and he has already recorded three interceptions this year. Chryst said he understands Hamilton will be a major factor Saturday, but emphasized he doesn’t want to focus on one player too much.
“When you play a really good team, you are going to be against really good players, and I think that is what we are facing this week,” Chryst said. “They have a number of really good players and a well-coached team at that. I think you got to certainly know where the good players are at, but you have to be careful not to overcompensate because then you can hurt yourself in other ways.”
The Wisconsin defensive line has been phenomenal so far this season, recording four sacks and 13 tackles for loss. They will face a Notre Dame offensive line that has struggled to protect Coan and establish a run game all year, and the Badgers’ front seven could very well be the difference in the game.
Chryst discussed the success of his team’s defensive line so far this season.
“We have done a nice job of scheming appropriately and [the] guys know what they are doing, and they can cut it lose and play,” Chryst said. “Each week there is going to be a different challenge and, certainly, we will be challenged this week.”
Chryst said he views Saturday’s game as a great opportunity for his players.
“I’m excited for our kids to be involved in games that are meaningful. I believe personally that every game is meaningful and every game has great opportunity,” Chryst sad. “But I also know that there is more around this game both for our fans and nationally. And I think that’s why kids come here to be part of that. I am just grateful for the opportunity to be playing and play in big games. It’s our job to take advantage of that opportunity. And the best thing that we can do is put our work in and have a great week, so we can go out and play our best.”
Kickoff will be Saturday at noon and can be viewed on Fox.