Notre Dame Football vs. Northwestern Gameday Primer

BLACKSBURG, VA - OCTOBER 6: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish speak with his team during a timeout in the first half against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Lane Stadium on October 6, 2018 in Blacksburg, Virginia. (Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images)
BLACKSBURG, VA - OCTOBER 6: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish speak with his team during a timeout in the first half against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Lane Stadium on October 6, 2018 in Blacksburg, Virginia. (Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images) /

Everything you need to know about the Notre Dame football matchup with the Northwestern Wildcats.

Notre Dame football is sitting at 8-0 and No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings. Tonight, the Irish look to continue their push to the postseason as they take on a 5-3 Northwestern team. Here’s everything you need to know:

Kickoff: 7:15 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Location: Ryan Field, Evanston, Illinois

Line: Notre Dame -10

Weather: At kickoff it will be 47 degrees with 66 percent humidity. There will be a 10 percent chance of rain and 10 mph winds. Throughout the game the chance of rain increases to 25 percent, 45 pecent and then by 10:00 p.m. the chance of rain will be at 50 percent. Expect some cold, rainy football in the second half.

Series History: These schools first met in 1889, and Notre Dame leads the all-time series 37-9-2. This will be the first matchup between the schools since 2014 and the embarrassing 43-40 Irish loss in overtime.

Top Storyline: Notre Dame is off to its best start since 2012 and look to continue their playoff run tonight vs. Northwestern. The Irish have a new target on their backs after coming in at No. 4 in the first College Football Playoff rankings last week, and will be facing a tough Wildcat team that has nothing to lose in the game. The combination of new expectations as a playoff team and facing a gritty underdog is the recipe for a season-derailing loss. Notre Dame has historically not played well in their games immediately after playing Navy. They are 4-4 over the last eight years in post-Navy games with only two wins coming by double digits. The Irish will have to rebound and take care of business to leave Chicago 9-0.

Injury Report: One of the biggest qualms about playing Navy is the unusual amount of injuries that seem to occur and last weekend was no different. After having his leg inadvertently rolled up on in the first quarter, senior linebacker Drue Tranquill was carted off and missed the rest of the game with an ankle sprain. He was out of his walking boot the next day and has had limited practice all week. I imagine he will be a game-time decision tonight, and if he is scratched, Jordan Genmark Heath, Drew White, and Asmar Bilal will fill in. Tight end Alize Mack suffered a concussion vs. Navy and has been ruled out, and kicker Justin Yoon will be back after missing last week’s game due to a nagging groin injury.

Milestone Tracker: 

  • Quarterback Ian Book is 63 passing yards away from the 2,000 yard career mark. He also looks to maintain his ridiculous completion percentage which currently sits at 76.5 percent – ranked first in the nation.
  • Receiver Miles Boykin is 96 yards away from the 1,000 yard career receiving mark. He has also recorded a receiving TD in four straight games, which hasn’t been done since Will Fuller in 2015.

Key Offensive Player for Northwestern: Clayton Thorson, Quarterback

Northwestern has had an up and down season, and a lot of it can be attributed to the offensive struggles. The Wildcats are 97th in the country in total yards per game and almost dead last out of 130 FBS teams with 91 rushing yards per game. With no run game, the bulk of the offense falls on the shoulders of quarterback Clayton Thorson. He has completed 60.7 percent of his passes this year to go along with 2,072 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. These numbers don’t jump off the page, but regardless, he is the catalyst for this Wildcat offense. If the Irish defense can turn the pressure up and keep Thorson from getting comfortable, it will suffocate the only means for Northwestern to move the ball.

Key Offensive Player for Notre Dame: Offensive Line

There are a handful of important players for this offense to have success tonight, but it will ultimately come down to the front five. Northwestern’s defense isn’t terrible, and statistically they will be one of the better defenses the Irish will have faced all season. They rank in roughly the top-50 in almost every major defensive category. The good news is they have yet to face a team with the athletes and speed that the Irish have. If the offensive line can take care of business, Williams and/or Armstrong should have a huge game on the ground and Book should pick apart their secondary. The offensive line played well vs. Navy with a new lineup, so if they can ride that momentum into tonight, this offense should continue to roll.

Key Defensive Player for Northwestern: Joe Gaziano, Defensive Lineman

As I said earlier, the Northwestern defense has played well this season, all things considered. One area they have struggled in is getting to the quarterback. As a team, they have 12 total sacks, good enough for 110th in the nation. However, junior Joe Gaziano has had success in disrupting the backfield this year. As a sophomore last season, Gaziano had nine sacks and this year he’s already recorded 7.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. He has the ability to get to the quarterback and ruin drives, and the Irish offense will have to limit him from being a factor and force someone else to step up.

Key Defensive Player for Notre Dame: Julian Okwara, Defensive End

The biggest key for the Irish offense will be to disrupt Northwestern’s passing game. The Wildcats run game is anemic and they rely on chunk plays through the air to move the ball. Julian Okwara’s numbers this season don’t jump off the page, having registered seven tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He leads the team with 16 quarterback hurries. While that might be frustrating for Okwara, it shows that he is one of the best on the team at (almost) getting to the quarterback and disrupting the backfield. If he can continue applying pressure and maybe add one or two sacks, it will help kill this Northwestern passing attack and put them in uncomfortable situations.

Next. Staff picks vs. Northwestern. dark