UW: LB Leo Chenal
The junior native of Grantsburg, WI., was one of the stars of the Badgers’ defense last year and was poised to continue his success this season. Off of a strained offseason, Chenal led the Badger defense in sacks (3), quarterback hurries (7) and tackles for loss (6 – tied with linebacker Nick Herbig). Those numbers earned him an All-Big Ten honorable mention and sky-high hopes for 2021.
But before he could start his 2021 season, Chenal tested positive for COVID-19 and was unable to play in the Badgers’ first two games against Penn State and Eastern Michigan.
Chenal is making his season debut at Soldier Field this weekend, and his teammates have already been raving about his practice performance. Look for him all over the field on Saturday morning, and make sure to take a look at the smile on Jim Leonhard’s face to have one of his best players back on the field.
ND: S Kyle Hamilton
On the other side is a defensive stud who’s been much more highly touted than Chenal, and rightfully so. Hamilton is one of the, if not the, best defensive players in college football. Last year, he was a First- or Second-team All-American according to nearly every single sports publication and was a Bednarik Award semifinalist for the best defensive player in college football. For context, all three of the finalists became first-round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. Hamilton is already projected to go top-ten in next year’s draft.
Hamilton has proven that the hype is real so far this season. In the Fighting Irish’s first game this season against Florida State, he recorded two interceptions and six tackles. On top of his ball-hawking ability, he’s a ridiculously hard hitter; he literally knocked out Purdue receiver David Bell last week and gave him a concussion. It probably isn’t too far-fetched to say the Badgers’ receivers will be thinking of that play as they cross the middle of the field this weekend.
Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst has insisted that there won’t be any special focus on Hamilton, and perhaps that’s not a bad idea. Attacking the rest of Notre Dame’s defense has worked pretty well for two of their three opponents so far. An average-at-best Florida State offense dropped 38 points on them, and mid-major Toledo put up 29 of their own. That same Toledo team put up six points against Colorado State the very next week. Not a great look.
But if you think about it, isn’t the idea of attacking the rest of the defense just a testament of Hamilton’s impact on the field? If you see #14 running downhill on Saturday, watch out.