Notre Dame football traveled to Evanston to take on Northwestern this Saturday. The Irish won a hard-fought road game and moved closer to a berth in the College Football Playoff.
Notre Dame football was looking to remain unbeaten and strengthen its case for the College Football Playoff, and they did just that. It was a close contest from start to finish. The Irish battled adversity and walked away with a 31-21 victory over a quality opponent on the road.
The Irish were without tight end Alize Mack in this game after he was unable to pass the concussion protocol. Linebacker and captain Drue Tranquill was available to the team in a limited capacity after he suffered a high ankle sprain against Navy.
Notre Dame won the coin toss and elected to receive the opening kick in this contest. I love that decision. I did not, however, love the offensive possession that immediately followed.
Ian Book and Dexter Williams had a miscue on a read option play that resulted in a fumble recovered by Northwestern. Fortunately for the Irish, the mistake did not cost them any points. The defense held firm and forced a field goal attempt that sailed wide right.
The Book club got back on track on their ensuing possession. They went 79 yards on a 14-play drive that culminated with a Dexter Williams touchdown run. Not to be outdone, the Irish defense forced a three-and-out. At this point, Notre Dame had all of the momentum.
That momentum was short-lived. The next Irish drive was kept alive after a weird series of events in which Notre Dame benefited from a favorable spot. They were not able to take advantage of that call, though. The Wildcat defense forced a field goal attempt that Justin Yoon hooked left. Missed field goals in Chicago in November — a tradition unlike any other.
The Northwestern offense then put together an impressive 18-play drive in which they consistently won the line of scrimmage. They punctuated that drive with a touchdown on a one-yard quarterback sneak to tie the game.
The Wildcats’ commitment to the run game took a significant amount of time off of the clock. The Irish got the ball back with just over two minutes left in the first half. Chase Claypool helped Notre Dame avoid a disaster before halftime by playing defense on a throw that was sure to be intercepted.
The Irish got back on track in the second half, but the Northwestern defense continued to make things difficult. Notre Dame drove 80 yards on their first possession, which included a fourth down conversion. Ian Book threw a perfect pass to Miles Boykin in the endzone to put the Irish up 14-7.
The Book club was backed up deep in their own territory on their next. On top of that, it had started to rain in Evanston. To most, that would be cause for a heavy dosage of run plays. Not for Chip Long. He told Ian Book to sling it.
Book was 3-for-4 for 92 yards on that drive. He hit Michael Young on a beautiful 47-yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to 14 points.
After a Justin Yoon field goal extended Notre Dame’s lead to 17, the Wildcats went on a run. Quarterback Clayton Thorson led Northwestern on a quick 70-yard touchdown drive to make it a two-possession game.
The Wildcats’ defense followed that up with a huge stop and a blocked punt that, fortuitously for the Irish, bounced out of bounds. The Notre Dame defense was unable to come up with a crucial stop, and Thorson scored his second rushing touchdown of the night on another quarterback sneak.
How did the Book club respond to a 14-0 run by Northwestern? With points, baby.
Ian Book was his usual efficient self on the drive — making some great throws in the rainy weather. He used his legs to finish the drive, though. He took the ball on what looked like a read option, but may have been a designed quarterback keeper. The Irish blocked it beautifully, and Book ran 23 yards for a touchdown that iced the game.