CHICAGO – Sometimes all the x's and o's in the world aren't enough. Sometimes, a football team just needs a playmaker to make a play.
Chris Tyree, the highest-rated running back recruit Irish coach Brian Kelly has signed in his 12-year tenure, provided that play for 12th-ranked Notre Dame this afternoon, taking a fourth-quarter kickoff 96 yards to the end zone for a go-ahead touchdown in a 41-13 Irish victory over No. 18 Wisconsin in a Shamrock Series matchup at Soldier Field that left Notre Dame undefeated at 4-0.
Tyree's play came in the game's biggest moment. Wisconsin had just kicked a field goal to finish a stretch of 10 unanswered points and take its first lead of the second half, but the sophomore's huge return, which was perfectly-blocked by Notre Dame's special teams whizzes, catapulted the Irish right back in front and they never trailed again.
- With the win, Irish coach Brian Kelly became the all-time leader in victories in Notre Dame history. He has 106 in 12 seasons, one more than Knute Rockne.
- When Wisconsin got the ball back after Tyree's return, the Irish defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola hit Graham Mertz and forced a fumble, which defensive end Isaiah Foskey alertly fell on at midfield.
- Irish defensive back Cam Hart had two interceptions, including a game-sealing pick with about five minutes left. The redshirt junior had never picked off a collegiate pass before today.
- Notre Dame had a pair of pick-sixes, one from Jack Kiser, the other from Drew White, in the final three minutes to make the final score a rout.
- Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan, a Wisconsin transfer, threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Austin Jr. in the first half, but got sacked five times. On the fifth takedown, in the third quarter, his leg got twisted under him and he had to leave the game. He tried to throw on the sideline, but was in obvious pain and did not return.
- Backup quarterback Drew Pyne, a redshirt freshman, took over for Coan and played the fourth quarter. He was hit from behind on his second series and lost the ball, setting up a Wisconsin field goal, but he also showed some escapability and went 6 for 8 for 81 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown pass to Austin that made it 24-13 midway through the fourth quarter.
- Wisconsin came into the game No. 1 in the country in time of possession after holding the ball for an average of 41 minutes in its first two games. The Irish made sustained drives a point all week and had the ball for 20 minutes in the first half and 31 minutes overall. Wisconsin, meanwhile, struggled to stay on the field, failing to convert on its first eight third-down attempts and a fourth-down deep in Irish territory. The Badgers went 1 for 13 on third down in total.
- The Badgers, long known as a rushing powerhouse, had just 11 carries for 17 yards in the first half despite Notre Dame playing without difficult-to-move nose tackle Kurt Hinish, who was out with an undisclosed injury. They had a couple of better runs in the second half, but still gained less than three yards per carry after picking up 356 on 55 attempts against Eastern Michigan two weeks ago.
- The Irish ran for just 39 yards and 1.9 per carry even if you remove the sacks of Coan.
- Mertz threw his first touchdown pass of the season in the third quarter, but completed less than 50% of his passes for barely six yards per attempt.
- The Irish are 10-0 in Shamrock Series games since the series began in 2009 and 11-0-2 all-time at Soldier Field, where they played their home games during the construction of Notre Dame Stadium in 1929.
- Bishop Dwenger graduate Joe Tippmann, a redshirt sophomore, started at center for the Badgers.
- Notre Dame punter Jay Bramblett booted a kick 72 yards late in the first half, the longest punt for the Irish since Hunter Smith had a 79-yarder against Arizona State in 1998.
- Notre Dame will be back in action next Saturday, Oct. 2, when it takes on No. 8 Cincinnati (3-0) at Notre Dame Stadium. The game will kick off at 2:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on NBC. The Bearcats, whom Kelly coached from 2006 to 2009, including a 12-0 regular-season record in '09, have College Football Playoff aspirations after going 9-1 and losing 24-21 to Georgia in the Peach Bowl last season. They'll be coming off a bye following a 38-24 win at Indiana.