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Saturday's Big Ten: With QB Coan out, No. 12 Notre Dame beats No. 18 Wisconsin

By Ralph D. Russo
Associated Press

Chicago — To win more games than any coach in the storied history of Notre Dame football, Brian Kelly has needed to be adaptable.

Maybe never more than the first month of this season. The Fighting Irish have used three quarterbacks and four left tackles, moved away from their run-first mentality and added wrinkles on defense to head into October unbeaten.

Notre Dame cornerback TaRiq Bracy signals a missed field goal by Wisconsin placekicker Collin Larsh (19) as holder Conor Schlichting watches during the second half.

Chris Tyree returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown and Drew Pyne threw a fourth-quarter touchdown pass in relief of an injured Jack Coan, helping No. 12 Notre Dame pull away from No. 18 Wisconsin 41-13 on Saturday at Soldier Field.

The Fighting Irish (4-0) have shown plenty of vulnerabilities as they retooled a team that went to the College Football Playoff last season. But they keep winning.

“We got a long way to go still, but they’re getting better each week,” Kelly said. “I’m having fun coaching them. They’re not perfect by any means, but they’re going to be better in November.”

With victory No. 106 in 12 seasons at Notre Dame, Kelly (106-39) surpassed the legendary Knute Rockne (105-12-5).

“Last year we were a veteran team. We hunkered down, we put three tight ends on the field. This is what we were and kind of lived with it,” Kelly said. “This is, like, we’re trying to figure it out as we go.”

Graham Mertz threw four interceptions for Wisconsin (1-2), including two that were returned for touchdowns in the final 2:30 to blow the game open. Notre Dame scored the final 31 points and the Badgers lost their seventh straight to a ranked team.

Running back Chez Mellusi called the collapse “embarrassing.”

Coan, a Wisconsin transfer, left with a left leg injury in the third quarter with the score tied at 10. Kelly said it was a soft tissue injury, but didn’t appear to be a severe ankle sprain.

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

Notre Dame had used freshman Tyler Buchner as a mobile complement to Coan the last two games, but he was dealing with a sore hamstring. So it was Pyne’s turn to step up.

Pyne lost a fumble on his second possession, leading to a field goal by the Badgers, but otherwise the redshirt freshman was solid, going 6 for 8 for 81 yards.

Coan played 22 games for Wisconsin over three seasons and was the starter for the 2019 team that reached the Big Ten championship game. He broke his foot in the runup to the abbreviated Big Ten season last year and Mertz claimed the starting job.

A highly rated 2019 recruit, Mertz had some ups and downs in 2020, but Coan could see where things were headed and transferred to Notre Dame.

He has been a solid fit playing behind a struggling offensive line. Coan completed 15 of 29 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown, and was sacked five times by his former team.

The blind-side sack of Pyne put Wisconsin at the Notre Dame 39. The Badgers stalled in the red zone, and Collin Larsh kicked a 27-yard field goal to put Wisconsin up 13-10 with 14:14 left in the fourth quarter.

The lead lasted 13 seconds. Tyree took the kickoff at the 4, found a seam to the left and turned on the speed. The sophomore outraced the Badgers for the touchdown that put the Irish up 17-13.

“I think that was the game-changing play,” said Notre Dame cornerback Cam Hart, who had two interceptions.

Notre Dame got a strip sack by Jayson Ademilola on Wisconsin’s next possession, and Isaiah Foskey recovered on the Badgers 46.

Pyne followed with four straight completions, including a 16-yard slant to Kevin Austin for a touchdown that made it 24-13 with 9:34 left.

Pyne celebrated his first career touchdown pass with a Conor McGregor-style strut and fist pump.

More Saturday Big Ten

(At) No. 6 Penn State 38, Villanova 17: Sean Clifford passed for four touchdowns and a career-high 401 yards. Clifford completed 19 of 26 passes, finding Parker Washington for two TDs and Jahan Dotson and KeAndre Lambert-Smith for one apiece. Tyler Warren rushed for a touchdown and Jordan Stout kicked a field goal for the Nittany Lions (4-0), who led 17-3 at the break in their eighth straight win.

A week after outlasting Southeastern Conference foe No. 23 Auburn in a back-and-forth slugfest, Penn State showcased its speed against its in-state FCS opponent.

Clifford spied Dotson speeding through Villanova cornerback Christian Benford’s single coverage and dropped a 52-yard strike into Dotson’s hands for a 7-0 lead just three minutes in.

Early in the second, the Wildcats pressured Clifford and brought him down at midfield for their first of three sacks on the afternoon. But the fifth-year senior popped up and fired to Washington crossing over the middle on the next play. Washington sliced through Villanova’s secondary for a 52-yard score that made it 14-3.

Stout added a 29-yard field goal before halftime, but Penn State missed out on an opportunity for an even bigger lead.

Cornerback Johnny Dixon dropped what could have been a Pick-6 midway through the first half, and the Nittany Lions’ final two possessions were spoiled by a holding penalty and a sack.

Clifford continued to hook up with his receivers for big plays in the second half.

Lambert-Smith caught a quick pass and beat the Wildcats for an 82-yard score on the second play of the third quarter. Later in the third, Washington found a hole in coverage and Clifford found him for a 23-yard touchdown pass and 31-3 lead.

Warren added a 3-yard touchdown run off a direct snap in the fourth quarter.

Villanova quarterback Daniel Smith threw 57- and 17-yard touchdown passes to Rayjoun Pringle in the fourth.

Bowling Green 14, (at) Minnesota 10: Quarterback Matt McDonald ran for a pair of scores, and two late interceptions by the Bowling Green defense sealed the win. The loss snapped Minnesota’s streak of 21 straight non-conference wins, the longest streak in the country coming in. The Gophers’ last non-conference loss was Sept. 3, 2015 against TCU.

It also marked Minnesota’s first loss to a non-Power 5 conference opponent since it lost to North Dakota State on Sept. 24, 2011.

Bowling Green came to Minneapolis as 31-point underdogs but used a strong defensive effort to slow down the Golden Gopher offense. Minnesota’s fans booed their team at numerous points in the game, while Falcons players jumped on the field in celebration after the upset was complete.

The Gophers had the ball with a chance to take the lead late in the fourth quarter after Bowling Green failed to fall on a muffed punt by Minnesota’s Trey Potts. But one play after recovering the fumble, quarterback Tanner Morgan lofted a deep interception into the hands of Devin Taylor with 2:13 remaining. Morgan threw another pick with 17 seconds remaining.

The Gophers’ passing game struggled all day against the Falcons. Morgan was just 5-of-13 for 59 yards.

McDonald scored on runs of one and three yards. He was 19-of-35 for 170 yards through the air.

Minnesota’s lone touchdown came on a 19-yard scramble by backup quarterback Cole Kramer.

(At) No. 10 Ohio State 59, Akron 7: True freshman quarterback Kyle McCord overcame early jitters to throw for 319 yards and two touchdowns, and freshman TreVeyon Henderson ran for 93 yards and two scores in the first half. McCord got the nod in place of C.J. Stroud, a freshman who started the first three games but has a sore shoulder and got a breather against the seven-touchdown underdog. McCord was 13 for 18 and got credit for the first touchdown pass of his career when Chris Olave turned a jet sweep toss into a 5-yard score in the first quarter.

Henderson, who broke the school’s single-game freshman rushing record last week – and in the following days picked up endorsement deals with a fast-food restaurant and a Columbus car dealer that netted him a used Camaro – continued to blossom as the next potential Ohio State star.

He averaged 11.6 yards per carry before leaving with the Buckeyes leading 38-7 at the half. He’s averaging 9.5 yards per carry and has six touchdowns in the first four games.

Master Teague III rushed for two second-half touchdowns, and Evan Pryor added another one late.

Ohio State (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) has struggled defensively in the first three weeks, and Akron quarterback DJ Irons exploited some holes to give the Zips (1-4) an early lead. But that didn’t last long. Irons was sacked four times and intercepted twice in the first half, including a 46-yard pick-six by Buckeyes safety Ronnie Hickman.

(At) Northwestern 35, Ohio 6: Evan Hull rushed for 216 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Hull bounced off a defender at the line of scrimmage late in the first quarter before sprinting away for a 90-yard score that helped set the Wildcats (2-2) up for their first win over an FBS team this season. The Wildcats’ ground game amassed 373 yards to take the pressure off sophomore Ryan Hilinski, who completed just 12 passes for 88 yards in his first start replacing Hunter Johnson.

While its defense struggled to stop the hosts, Ohio (0-4) remained winless after often killing its own drives with a combination of turnovers, costly penalties and sacks. Kurtis Rourke was 20-for-29 for 166 yards with a fumble and an interception.

(At) No. 5 Iowa 24, Colorado State 14: Spencer Petras threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns as the Hawkeyes needed a second-half comeback to stay unbeaten.

The Hawkeyes (4-0) won their 10th consecutive game and have a 15-game nonconference winning streak, the longest current streak in the nation.

Colorado State (1-3) led 14-7 at halftime, but the Hawkeyes scored touchdowns on back-to-back possessions that took a combined four plays in the third quarter.

A fumble recovery by Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell at the Colorado State 6-yard line set up a touchdown run by wide receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr., on the next play that tied the game. Petras threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to tight end Sam LaPorta on the next possession to give Iowa a 21-14 lead.

Colorado State cornerback Robert Floyd wrestled away a pass intended for Tracy and returned it 62 yards to set up Todd Centeio’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Gary Williams in the second quarter.

(At) Maryland 37, Kent State 16: Taulia Tagovailoa threw for 384 yards and three touchdowns. The Terrapins (4-0) have won their first four games for the first time since 2016, and their solid start has added some intrigue to upcoming matchups against Iowa and Ohio State. Maryland wasn’t necessarily dominant against Kent State, but the Terps stiffened on defense when they needed to.

The Golden Flashes (1-3) had the ball in Maryland territory on seven of their first eight possessions, but they managed only nine points on those drives.

(At) Purdue 13, Illinois 9: Aidan O’Connell hooked up with T.J. Sheffield on a 14-yard scoring pass with 5:44 left to play for Saturday’s only touchdown. The Boilermakers (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) rebounded from their only loss of the season by claiming the Cannon Trophy for the second straight year.

Illinois (1-4, 1-2) has lost four in a row since beating Nebraska in the season opener.

(At) Bowling Green 33, Western Kentucky 31: Stephen Carr had 109 yards rushing and two touchdowns, Michael Penix Jr. passed for 373 yards and completed a career-high 34 passes on 53 attempts. Ty Fryfogle had 10 receptions for 98 yards, including a 10-yard reception on third-and-8 with 1:55 to play that allowed the Hoosiers to run out the clock and escape with the victory.

Indiana (2-2), which finished with 507 total yards, scored on it’s first six possessions and never trailed.

Carr scored on a 1-yard touchdown to cap an 11-play, 79-yard opening drive and make it 7-0 with 10:15 left in the first quarter. Penix completed 5 of 6 passes for 51 yards in the drive.

Following a three-and-out by Western Kentucky, the Hoosiers went 81 yards in 11 plays and Penix scored on a quarterback sneak to push the lead to 14-0 about five minutes later.

Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe was 31-of-44 passing for 365 yards and three touchdowns.

The Hilltoppers (2-2) got on the scoreboard early in the second quarter as running back Adam Cofield scored from a yard out with 14:27 left in the half to cap a 15-play, 77-yard scoring drive that cut the Hoosiers lead to 14-7.