Chat Transcript: Talking Buchner's role in QB mix, ND's O-talent and Hamilton for Heisman?

Eric Hansen
ND Insider
Notre Dame QB Tyler Buchner (12) gets away from Purdue's Jamari Brown (7) during ND's 27-13 win over Purdue, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, at Notre Dame Stadium.

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, Wisconsin week.

In case you missed it this morning, Notre Dame received a verbal commitment from running back Sedrick Irvin Jr., a top 100 prospect in the 2023 class. The Irish sit atop the Rivals.com team rankings for the 2022 cycle and are No. 2 in the 2023 cycle. They're No. 2 in both for 247Sports.

OK, as far as the chat, please include your NAME and HOMETOWN along with your question. Let's get started.

Patrick from Fort Wayne, Ind.: Good afternoon, Eric, I have noticed that Rylie Mills has not been as active this year as last. Has he taken a step back or is there another reason? Also, I don't recall seeing Jordan Botelho on defense. Did he only play on special teams? Finally, rough day for Kevin Austin. Looking forward to a game where he dominates.

Eric Hansen: Hi Patrick. The Irish coaches still love Mills. He did have a season-high 19 snaps against Purdue, but you're right about not seeing him as much. The big reason is starter Jayson Ademilola has surged and has been really productive. ... Jordan Botelho only played special teams Saturday in his season debut. I mentioned that in my game column. Just a matter of getting back into the swing of things for him. I'd expect a larger role this Saturday for him. ... Yes, rough day for Kevin Austin Jr. The Irish need a bounce-back Saturday from him.

Matthew Shawcross from SugarLand, Texas: Hi Eric. Why is Wisconsin favored by the oddsmakers over ND, given that the two teams are effectively playing on a neutral field?

Eric Hansen: Matthew, the lines are not set to predict the winner but to get even wagering on both sides. When one side starts dominating the betting, the line moves. It's that simple.

Jacob from Hobart, Ind.: Jack Coan's accuracy looked a lot worse last week. What do you think was the biggest reason for that? The finger injury? Purdue taking away Michael Mayer? Or something else?

Eric Hansen: Hi Jacob. There were quite a few drops, especially among the wide receivers. So that's part of it. And Coan simply missed on some throws — too much air. He didn't throw any picks, which was a plus. He said the finger really didn't brother him. He'll need to be sharp Saturday against his former teammates.

Bob from Mishawaka: Is the Wisconsin defense better equipped to defend Jack Coan or Tyler Buchner? How much playing time do you think Buchner will get this week and will his hamstring injury limit it?

Eric Hansen: I think the most difficult assignment for the Wisconsin defense would be to have to face both. If they either played the whole game, I think Coan would give ND the better chance to win, but again playing both is the best path to victory. ... I'll check in with Brian Kelly again Thursday re Buchner's hammy. I asked about Buchner's tight hamstring on Monday, and Bk's response was that they were treating it aggressively and that he was expected to play Saturday. ... Back to the strengths of the two ND QBs vs. the Wisky defense, Coan knows the scheme and the personnel and can also deliver the deep shots/big chunk plays potentially, but mobility is a problem. Buchner can open up the traditional running game against a team that has given up one total rushing first down this season, but he doesn't have the experience in the passing game to take advantage of his arm talent.

Louis from Chicago: Do you think the defensive coaches talked to Jack Coan about Wisconsin's offense? Do they still run most of the same playbook?

Eric Hansen: Brian Kelly played that down, but I'm sure Coan had some helpful tidbits. Nothing, though, that's going to sway the game. And remember, head coach Paul Chryst is back to calling offensive plays. He wasn't doing that last year.

Bill from Goshen: On a scale of 1-10, how confident do you think coach Kelly is with kicker Jonathan Doerer? Do you think last week was just a fluke?

Eric Hansen: I'd say 9.5. He's 5-of-7 this year on field goals and 11-of-11 on PATs. His FG misses are from 55 and 45. Kickers aren't perfect. He rebounded after his miss and made his next one.

Harold from Evansville, Ind.: I know the Heisman Trophy is always an offensive award. But if ND finishes undefeated and Kyle Hamilton keeps dominating, does he have any chance? What would it take for a defensive player to win it?

Eric Hansen: If Notre Dame went undefeated, which is a big 'if.' an Irish player would figure to be in the conversation. For that to be Kyle Hamilton, the ND defense, as a whole, would need to be elite. And it wouldn't hurt if, say, Hamilton scored an offensive TD or two. Manti Te'o was in the mix in 2012, because ND's defense was the driving force in the Irish making it to the BCS Championship Game. And Te'o had big moments in big games, plus the consistency to go with it.

Jake from Saratoga, N.Y.: Hi Eric. Against Purdue, Jack Coan was very inaccurate, and without accuracy from him I believe his value drops dramatically.  So my question is if he remains inaccurate, do you believe he still gives ND a better chance to win than an inexperienced Buchner, who doesn’t have the full playbook? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: If Coan's accuracy dropped dramatically and consistently, he'd have to worry about Drew Pyne as well. He doesn't have the kind of track record, though, so let's see if he can rebound against a very good defense. It was interesting in the player interviews last night, right tackle Josh Lugg said Coan's "grit" is something that rubs off on the entire team. I still think playing both Coan and Buchner is the best path to success at this point in the season — not one over the other.

Whitey from Lake Como, N.J.: Hi Eric. Always enjoy reading these chats. Was wondering how do you feel about Audric Estime getting a chance in a short-yardage situation.

Eric Hansen: As long as C'Bo Flemister is out — and he is again this week — there's an opportunity for Estime to earn that. He certainly has the body for it, but it's also about trust in a game situation. Until the coaches trust him in that situation, those carries will go to Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree.

Denny from Liberty Hill, Texas: Hi Eric! We were just a couple plays off from having a big game. I recall four plays where we had separation that should have gone for six. At least that is encouraging as a big step. My question is: Will Notre Dame be allotted an equal number of tickets for Wiscy's home game on the neutral field? Is this the first Shamrock game we have been the visiting team?

Eric Hansen: Hi Denny. There is a 50-50 ticket allotment for this game, as well as the makeup game in Green Bay in 2026. You're absolutely right, this is the first (and likely only) Shamrock Series game in which Notre Dame is not technically the home team and, thus, NBC is not the televising network. It's FOX.

Mike from Quakertown, Pa.: Thanks again for your dedication to all things Irish. You are a reliable and trustworthy voice. The schedule this year does not seem to be shaking out to be as tough as many predicted due to early losses by upcoming opponents. Do the Irish have to run the table to make the playoff? Would 10-2 be good enough for a New Year's Six game? Thanks again!

Eric Hansen: Hi Mike and thank you. Those projections are difficult to make in a vacuum and even more at this point in the season. But given that Cincinnati is the only unbeaten ND opponent left and given the lack of potential marquee wins in November, I think it would be difficult for the Irish to recover from any loss and still make the playoff THIS year. Other years the schedule plays out differently. A 10-2 record should be good enough for the New Year's Six, but those invites are also based on the CFP rankings. So it's a matter of which teams are the two losses to and how those teams themselves finish out. ND could not afford a November loss in the 10-2 scenario.

Mark from Orange County, Calif.: Hi Eric. Hope you are doing well. Thank you for hosting these chats and for your excellent coverage of ND football. A 3-0 record should generate a lot of exclamation points from Manny! Coach Kelly seemed very relaxed at Monday's press conference. Do you think ND will be able to run the ball against Wisconsin? Do you expect to see as much improvement in the ND defense this week as the showed last week? Thank you for taking my questions.

Eric Hansen: Hi Mark. Thanks, and same to you!!!!!!!!!!! The first question needs a qualifier -- compared to whom? Wisconsin has allowed a total of 66 rushing yards and one rushing first down in two games. They've been a top 6 rush defense five of the previous six seasons. The mission isn't to get 100 yards or 150 yards or 200 yards rushing. It's about getting enough rushing yards and success in doing so at critical times to keep Badgers defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard guessing, that you can set up big-chunk pass plays. That's how Penn State won — that and turnovers, and holding Wisconsin to 1-of-4 in the red zone. Otherwise, Wisconsin dominated that game ... in first downs, 29-11, in rushing advantage, 180-50, etc. .. Yes, I expect improvement in the defense. As I wrote Saturday night, the defense HAS to improve and has to be the catalyst through this tough five-game stretch.

Larry from Topton, Pa.: Hi Eric. Thanks for the great coverage and pods! Three unrelated questions: When I asked last spring, you seemed to insinuate that you might get some radio time on a different station. 1) Has anything materialized in that area? 2) With an 11 a.m. start time this week, it has me wondering, do you ever remember an ND game kicking off in the a.m.? 3) I know there was some offensive line rotation last week. D; do you know how the snap count broke down for the line? Thanks, E.

Eric Hansen: Hi Larry. Thank you for reading and listening. 1) Decided not to go down that road. 2) The game is at noon ET. If we're strictly going by ET conversions, I believe the Navy game in Ireland in 2012 was in the morning, and there might have been another Navy game in the States with an early kickoff like that. If there are more, they are either beyond my time covering ND or beyond my brain's bandwidth to recall them. 3) Josh Lugg, Cain Madden, Jarrett Patterson and Tosh Baker played every snap (69). Correll played all but eight, which Kristofic took. Joe Alt played eight in the heavy package as the extra blocker but eligible receiver.

Dave from Hilton Head, S.C.: Thanks for not posting my question about the defense last week. Clearly I was missing something. Do you think the progress we saw with Purdue will continue or was it simply a good match? Thanks for the chats and stay safe.

Eric Hansen: Dave, it wasn't intentional, but you're welcome. ... and thank you. I'm glad it worked out. Yes, my expectation is that Notre Dame will steadily improve defensively ... and the Irish need to, with some really good quarterbacks coming up on the schedule.

Doug from Norfolk, Va.: I read the interviews with Jack Swarbrick and have more questions on NIL. What keeps a big-money alum from saying something like, 'If you come here, we’ll give you $100,000 or $1,000,000 for minimal effort? What if these deals come with a no-transfer clause? What if they target high schoolers and there is a clause so they’re only paid if they go to a certain school? What happens if players, in any sport, completely disregard all academics and simply try to cash in on any collegiate fame? Sorry for all the Q’s; I just feel like there is so much wrong with this as it is now, and it will end up hurting students in the long run.

Eric Hansen: Doug, thanks for reading the Q-and-A's. I understand your concern. And so would Jack Swarbrick. At some point the NCAA or Congress is going to have to establish some definitive guardrails. Otherwise, there will be abuses to NIL. Some of the scenarios you posed aren't realistic. A no-transfer clause wouldn't fly anywhere. There are some compliance elements in place. I think in the proper structure NIL is going to be a really good thing. We have not arrived at that point yet and need to soon.

Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton (14) tackles Purdue's TJ Sheffield (8) during ND's 27-13 victory over Purdue, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, at Notre Dame Stadium.

Tony from Lake Mary, Fla.: Hey Eric, Kyle Hamilton is a stud, eh? I know you aren't big on hypotheticals and a comparing-players type of guy, but I am curious your thoughts on Jaylon Smith vs. Kyle Hamilton, assuming they played under the same defensive coordinator(s). I guess we could throw Manti in there as well, but Hamilton/Smith in terms of pure athleticism and instinct is great. Also, any deep dive into the misconnects on the passes to Austin last Saturday — bad routes or bad throws, or both? I can see how high you were on him. Other than one miscue, it seems if the ball is near him, he is gonna make the play.

Eric Hansen: OK Tony, when we do the Smith/Hamilton comparison we're splitting hairs. I want to make sure to preface it that way. Manti Te'o is out of the conversation, He was really, really good in 2012, but in today's football, he'd be less effective — because of the spread offenses and more coverage responsibilities. So with a healthy Jaylon vs. Hamilton, I'd take the freshman version of Jaylon and the sophomore version of Jaylon over the freshman and sophomore versions of Hamilton. But I'd take Hamilton as a junior over Jaylon as a junior. The tiebreaker is forcing turnovers. ,,, As far as Austin, some of those would have been tough catches, but catches he normally makes. I think maybe he just got down on himself and got in his own head too much. Remember, he only had six career catches coming into this season. He's still finding himself. I expect him to move on from a rough day at the office.

Tom from Grand Rapids thru Dowagiac: Eric, appreciate all the work you do for us fans. If you had to grade the two coordinators right now, what would it be? (I don’t care about injuries or COVID.) Also, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the new defensive scheme: During the Toledo game, they (Toledo) were in a four-wide set. The back motioned out to sideline by their bench. Arguably, your best pass rusher (Isaiah Foskey), on a 3rd-10, was forced to go cover the running back. Does that make sense?

Eric Hansen: Tom, thank you. I'm not trying to dodge your question, but I'd give them both incompletes. If Tommy Rees was returning eight offensive starters instead of three or if Marcus Freeman was in his second or third year at ND with his scheme, I could spit out a letter grade for each. I need to see more and what it leads to. I give Tommy and BK credit for playing Tyler Buchner. I give Marcus credit for turning JD Bertrand into such a productive player. I don't remember the specific play you described, but based on your description, those kinds of tactics are used, so you don't know where the pressure is coming from. And maybe the opposing QB throws a pick, because he is anticipating the running back being wide open, when instead the end drops. Disguising coverages and pressures, and keeping and opposing offensive coordinator guessing is something I can buy into.

Will from Seattle: Eric, thanks as always for doing these chats! Apart from the false starts, it seemed like Tosh Baker had more good moments than bad ones last week. He looks to have great upside. What did you see and what do you hear? It seems clear that we are going to benefit in the future from him getting this experience. Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Hi Will, and thank you. I spoke with Josh Lugg last night, and he said Baker is really building on that game experience in practice this week. Confidence is up. He's a very talented player with a bright future, even if his present has some rough edges. I mentioned this on the podcast that I think Joe Alt, Baker, Blake Fisher, Rocco Spindler and Michael Carmody — all freshmen or redshirt freshmen — are five of the six highest-ceiling offensive linemen on the team — along with Jarrett Patterson.

Marie from Atlanta: Hi Eric. I hope you are having a great week. How would you rate Kevin Austin's performance so far? Do you think he will come back next year to increase his NFL chances? The O-line is just not making the necessary improvements. If the poor play continues to the bye week, do you think at that time personnel/position changes would be considered. I feel as though Lugg has really struggled and not played anywhere near his capability. Could he possibly move to guard and then have either Baker or Carmody play right tackle when Fisher returns? There have definitely been some O-line recruits that have not hit or developed as planned. With Lugg, Patterson and Madden gone next year, the O-line will once again have a lot of holes to fill in. Do you think ND will be active in the transfer portal to help fill those holes? There may be some second- or third-string players at the top programs who are not getting to play that might be interested in the opportunity. Thanks for all your great insights. Have fun in Chicago.

Eric Hansen: Hi Marie. I am having a great week, thank you. You have no idea what doing in-person interviews with actual follow-up questions can do for a guy's mood. I would be surprised if Kevin Austin came back if he stays healthy the whole season. I'd also be surprised if he plays at a level in which that would be a difficult decision for him. ... If you're going to make larger personnel/positional alterations on the O-Line, the bye week is the time to make them. But things may look very different then.

In my estimation, the six best linemen in terms of talent/potential are the five freshmen/redshirt freshmen I mentioned in the last question and Jarrett Patterson. But they are not the best six at the moment. So that's the puzzle. There are other factors. Cain Madden and Josh Lugg have lighter academic loads. They have more time for film study, etc. Conceivably, they could surge because of that, combined with their work ethic. As far as the transfer portal, that's a possibility next offseason, but how would a starting five of Blake Fisher, Rocco Spindler, Zeke Correll, Andrew Kristofic/MIchael Carmody, Tosh Baker/Joe Alt sound in 2022?

Zane from Georgetown, Texas: Hi Eric, thanks for your time as always. I'm sort of picking up Marie's question here. I'm a Brian Kelly fan, and like most everything about him except his seeming refusal to recognize necessary coaching changes. Obviously, I'm still traumatized by Brian VanGorder, and maybe overly so. Watching Kelly evolve since 2016, do you think that he will remain stubborn about changing say, the O-line coach, even if the line doesn't improve? This is a little speculative, but BK seems to describe the talented players as if they're a Pop Warner team in terms of experience/time in the system — and that's alarming. Does Tommy Rees have much say here?

I should add that I'm not saying the jury is back yet regarding any of the coaches, and am hoping for the best going forward.

Eric Hansen: If Brian Kelly thought Jeff Quinn — or any other assistant coach — was an impediment to winning a national championship, he'd be gone. Just like Chip Long was after the 2019 season. The view of Quinn in the coaching business is very different from how the fan base sees him. The offensive line issues are magnified and perhaps even distorted by a starting quarterback without a running/extending plays skill set. If you had last year's line and this year's QB, or this year's line and last year's QB, there wouldn't be so much tar-and-feather vibe around Quinn.

We had a question from a reader/listener on the Pod of Gold podcast this week, who insinuated Notre Dame should NEVER be in this position. I agree, and then I explained in deeper detail my answer about the O-Line/QB connection, but I also did a deeper dive into recruiting and the other layers that are contributing as to why the O-Line play is what it is so far. That conversation — which would be too long to repeat in this forum — starts at the 45:12 mark if you're interested.

John from Des Moines, Iowa: Good afternoon, Eric. The numerous sacks on Jack Coan would seem to make him more vulnerable to injury than is the norm for a quarterback. With this, won't it make sense to open Buchner up to the complete playbook rather than keeping him exposed to a limited assortment?

Eric Hansen: Not if you want to win this year. Tyler Buchner is an exceptional freshman from a talent and maturity standpoint. He's an anomaly from an experience standpoint. He missed his sophomore year in high school with an injury and his senior season because of COVID delays. So he has one year of starting QB experience at a school in California's smallest enrollment division. Granted he accounted for 81 TDs (not a typo) that year, but giving him the full playbook would be like drinking out of a firehose. It has to be incremental. I remember talking to former OC Mike Denbrock about how they handled DeShone Kizer in 2015 — and Kizer had far more experience comparatively than Buchner. But they gave him a little more of the playbook each week and let him get good at the parts he did know in the meantime.

Bill from St Joe, Mich.: Eric, I really enjoyed your (and, of course, Tyler’s too!) podcast with Barry Alvarez. All my fellow ND alums wished he was ND’s next head coach after Lou. I also watched Paul Chryst’s weekly presser. If you also watched his press conference, do you think he’s purposely danced around virtually all the questions asked or is that who he is? I can’t imagine having to write a story based on his pressers ... and yet I recognize how good a head football coach he is.

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Bill. I don't deal with Chryst enough to know his style. That's not terribly uncommon in the coaching business, though. It helps one appreciate Brian Kelly, at least when it comes to interviews. In general terms (not aimed at Chryst), I think there are coaches who feel being closed up with the media is part of what leads to their success. I think it hurts them more than it helps.

Bill from St Joe, Mich.: Eric, are you as surprised as I am that the right side of the O-line is as big an issue as the left side?

Eric Hansen: Maybe bigger. And yes.

Mark Kincardine from Ontario, Canada: Eric, thanks for your weekly chats, will we see any changes to the offensive line this week? Stay safe.

Eric Hansen: Hi Mark from Canada. Thanks for being here. Maybe some more rotation of Kristofic in, but otherwise, you're trying to build continuity — so that changes in personnel would seem to disrupt that aim.

J Buckley from San Diego: Love these chats, thanks. Need your thoughts on the O-line. Seems the transfer isn't as good playing with the big boys. Also, what happened to Quinn Carroll? Wasn't he a top 100 recruit? I know he played some last year? Also, It looks like BK share my stress in that he is substituting on the O-line? Looks like Joe Alt will lock down the RT in future and Blake Fisher when healthy. Go Irish.

Eric Hansen: Thanks. I want you all to know I enjoy these chats too. One of the most fun parts of the week. ...as long as everyone keeps their shoes on. ... Let me zero in on Quinn Carroll. He was indeed a top 100 recruit, and Brian Kelly had high hopes for him as a tackle. He suffered a knee injury in fall camp of his freshman year (2019) after an impressive spring and summer as an early enrollee. He hasn't been the same since and is now a third-string guard. He did play in mop-up duty in three blowouts in 2000. We can probably assume he's physically compromised.

Tom from Kennesaw, Ga.: Good morning, Eric. The O-line is the hot topic now. Talk of inexperience, communication and chemistry are prominent. Kelly is doing his best head coach spin job in his pressers, BUT my observation is that too many guys are just flat getting beat one-on-one too often. Some of that may be inexperience or lack of mature strength for the young players. Your thoughts please and do we just have to live through this and hope they improve as the season goes on??? Secondly, BK talks of rotating players so that they are not playing too many snaps, and yet some of the players he is talking about (Bertrand, etc.) are on many special teams.  That is at least a 40- to 50-yard sprint each play. Wouldn't that be any area to use someone else??? Finally, with your staff cutbacks, it seems you are covering a lot more topics than in the past.  Do you feel that this has given you a better understanding of the program as a whole?? Thanks for all your hard work. I'm sure glad to see Roger get some much deserved appreciation. Go Irish!!!

Eric Hansen: Hi Tom. I've covered some of the O-line stuff earlier, but the bottom line is I feel it's best to keep building the continuity and trust instead of wholesale changes. ... Bertrand is in demand and the hope is Prince Kollie will soon be up to speed and be able to rotate in. BK would actually like to use Bertrand occasionally on offense as a blocking back. ... As far as the cutbacks, I always feel it's my job to overcome any inconveniences or roadblocks that are put in my way. We miss Carter Karels. Does getting more nuanced in recruiting coverage give me a better understanding of the program? Given the evolution that's going on in that area, I would say it does. ... Yes, it was nice to see Roger Valdiserri have a nice moment this weekend.

Jeff from Phoenix: Hey Eric, a few questions about future scheduling. Given the numerous comments from Kelly about the disruptions caused by the shortened week following FSU, do you think a Sunday evening game that is not followed by a bye week is off the table for any future ND game? Also, any more news on a ND-BYU game in Las Vegas next year? Cheers!

Eric Hansen: Cheers, Jeff. I think Notre Dame would try to avoid the Sunday night game without the bye in the future, but sometimes that's not possible. You don't want to give up the bye in October. There are years with two byes, but it is rare when the calendar falls that way. ... Yes, I do expect details on the Vegas game soon.

Jeff from Schererville, Ind.: Hi Eric. No question today but a postscript to the earlier question about morning kickoffs. The 1995 Texas game at Notre Dame Stadium started at 11:30 in the morning local time, presumably due to Ryder Cup coverage on NBC before and after. I remember that game well, because it was my sophomore year at ND, and ND won 55-27.  If we get a couple defensive or special teams touchdowns and win by a wide margin against Wisconsin like we did on that day in 1995, maybe morning kickoffs should become a habit. :) Best wishes and gratitude to you and the SBT/ND Insider crew, and keep up your great work!

Eric Hansen: Jeff, thanks for the assist on that. I was at the South Bend Tribune then, but not on ND football coverage at the time. That was my last year on the Big Ten beat (yes, we had one then, pre-Internet).

Richard from Warner Robins, Ga.: Greetings from the South and thank you for your continued professional coverage of Fighting Irish Football. My question is why — if the NCAA has vacated Notre Dame wins under Brian Kelly's watch — do these wins count toward his breaking Knute Rockne's total win record at ND? It seems like a conflict arises when comparing total ND wins (less vacated wins) to total wins for all ND coaches under this scenario. Thank you and continued success.

Eric Hansen: Hi Richard. Thanks for the kind words. The NCAA has vacated the wins, MUCH to Notre Dame's objection. And how silly that gets is that if Notre Dame had just expelled all five players immediately instead of giving them their due process, they would have avoided the vacating of wins. Notre Dame, meanwhile, did not vacate the wins in its record-keeping and is not obligated to do so. And so those wins count toward records and milestones. That's it.

Caleb from Charlotte, N.C.: Eric, after listening to the players involved with the "Inside the Garage" podcast discuss the challenges that they face being a student-athlete at ND, I'm convinced that we fans expect too much from these students. I think sometimes we're too critical of their play in games when instead we should be more supportive. After all, these are 18- to 21-year-old college students. What is your opinion?

Eric Hansen: I think the podcast explains a lot. In other words, I agree. We sometimes look at these guys as robots, and don't understand that sometimes they got three hours sleep or there is trouble back home that they can't help with or they're overwhelmed in a class. I love the podcast by the way. It's enlightening — and fun.

Lee from Lancaster, S.C.: Eric, based on what you've observed so far, what do you consider to be this team's biggest weakness and its greatest strength? Also, what or whom has surprised you the most in the first three games?

Eric Hansen: Biggest strength is Kyle Hamilton, followed by the defensive line. Michael Mayer is a big one too. Biggest weakness is the combination of a reconfiguring offensive line with a non-mobile quarterback. Three surprises? I'll assume good surprises ... JD Bertrand, Isaiah Pryor and Joe Alt.

Alex from Jackson, Mo.: Greetings, Eric! Ten wins in a row for the Birds! Who would have thought!? To my question, what did you see on Saturday, if anything, that made you feel the play of the offensive line progressed from the first two games? And do you think Spindler is on the verge of getting more playing time anytime soon? If so, at left or right guard? Thanks!

Eric Hansen: Hi Alex. I never thought the Cardinals' consecutive win total could match the number my granddaughter can comfortably count to. ... To your question, neutralizing George Karlaftis counts for something. I liked the Joe Alt package and I think Tosh Baker is going to benefit from playing in game situations. In talking to the players, they acknowledge the issues but are upbeat about what's to come. That's a good sign, too. ... I don't think Rocco Spindler is next man in. I think it's Andrew Kristofic on the interior. But Spindler is going to be a star someday. And, yes, Notre Dame is a school where an offensive guard can be a star.

Frank from Rockwall, Texas: Who will have the crowd advantage in Chicago, ND or Wisconsin?

Eric Hansen: It's 50-50 in ticket allotment. So I guess it comes down to who can ingest more beer before noon and be the loudest or who hits the secondary ticket market harder. Right now in the latter, ND is making gains.

Steve from Findlay, Ohio: Eric, do we have the better offense and Wisconsin the better defense? Will turnovers be the key to who wins?

Eric Hansen: Yes, yes and yes.

Tim from Elkhart: Knowing that Wisconsin is so good against the run and ND's O-line has struggled so much, what will be ND's game plan?

Eric Hansen: Run enough to keep the defense honest. Get Tyler Buchner involved if he's healthy enough. Get some one-on-one matchups in the passing game and win those with some big-chunk plays. The Irish have to win turnovers (as Penn State did) and maybe get a defensive/special teams TD.

Jim Albuquerque: Buneo Dias Eric…Esta bien?

Eric Hansen: Me siento bien y lleno de cafeína.

Robert from Sartell, Minn.: Great to be 3-0.  Who needs to step up on the O-line to beat Wisconsin and Cincy?

Eric Hansen: Everybody.

Tim from Pleasant Prairie, Wis.: Hi Eric. I was watching The Brian Kelly Show or Inside ND Football — I forget which — and Brian Kelly said that for the Florida State game, the team's accommodations were tents set up in the hotel parking lot! I found this hard to believe, and it was the first I heard of it. Was this just Kelly's attempt at humor, or was there in fact a SNAFU in their housing for this road game for some reason?

As a follow-up to my question, I rewatched the show and, yes, he did say this and did not sound like he was joking. How in the world does an organization like ND football end up in a situation like that? Was it some sort of warped gamesmanship on the part of the hotel owner? Hard to believe they didn't have guaranteed rooms in a nice hotel booked months, if not years, ahead of time. What do you know about the details and reasons for this crazy situation?

Eric Hansen: I didn't hear the show, but the Notre Dame players and coaches had a meal in tents in the parking lot. They didn't sleep there. He mentioned this in the Monday press conference on Sept. 6 ... that this was part of the COVID protocols and procedures that are still a part of playing on the road.

Notre Dame’s Kevin Austin Jr. (4) has a pass broken up by Purdue's Jamari Brown (7) during the Notre Dame-Purdue game, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, at Notre Dame Stadium.

Myliah in El Cerrito, Calif.: Eric, I always look forward to Wednesdays and these sessions; I work harder in the morning so I can briefly procrastinate and muse over these chats in the afternoon. I wasn't surprised to see Michael Mayer blanketed. I was surprised to see Joe Alt go in as a tight end. I guess, I never realized that was possible, as obvious as it seems now. So, would you let the wide receivers enjoy the benefits of single coverage (with Mayer blanketed), or would you bolster that weak side with Alt (or Cane Berrong, etc) moving forward? I guess it depends on the team, the situation, the play, but in general. ... And do you have faith in Jack Coan delivering into time and the wide receivers winning the 50-50s?

Eric Hansen: Myliah, thank you, and you kind of answered your question. Depends on the team, the situation ... and you do want to mix that up. But I do have faith that ND has a better deep passing game than what was shown Saturday, with both the overthrows and the drops.

Eric Hansen: OK, I went overtime by a half hour and still have questions in the queue. Time for me to work on my speed thinking and speed typing. Thanks for all the great questions and lack of manifestos. We'll be back to do it all over again next Wednesday at noon EDT.

Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @EHansenNDI