The Irish will look to bounce back from a devastating loss to Arizona State this week when they host the struggling Northwestern Wildcats. Notre Dame should be able to have a solid effort defensively as the Wildcats rank last nationally with just three 30 plus yards plays all season and rank second last nationally in yards per play. As always the emphasis for Everett Golson and the Irish offense will be to eliminate turnovers from their game. If the Irish play a clean game they should get back on track as they possess advantages in virtually every facet of the game. The following are the critical matchups the Irish must control to be victorious:
Jaylon Smith versus Trevor Siemian: Linebacker Jaylon Smith will have an opportunity for a big day when Trevor Siemian and the struggling Wildcats offense come to South Bend. Siemian is a dual-threat quarterback with five passing touchdowns and four rushing touchdowns on the season but he has thrown eight interceptions and is sacked often. Smith should be able to get pressure on Siemian and force him into bad throws as well as limit any success he has running the football.
Cody Riggs versus Kyle Prater: Cody Riggs missed last week’s game versus Arizona State but will be back this week to attempt to shut down veteran wide receiver Kyle Prater. Prater is a tall receiver at 6’5’’ so Riggs will be facing a large height disadvantage as usual. Prater has a team-high 37 receptions for 372 yards for the Wildcats but Riggs has held more talented receivers in check this season so he shouldn’t struggle with the least explosive offense in the nation.
Irish running backs versus Chi Chi Ariguzo: The Irish had little success running the ball versus Arizona State and even less success picking up the blitz so they’ll be looking to bounce back against Wildcats senior and leader of the defense Chi Chi Ariguzo. Ariguzo has a team-high 80 tackles for Northwestern from his linebacker spot and embodies the identity of the Wildcats physical defense. The Irish running backs could all see touches in this game and will need to establish the run to make things easier for Everett Golson in the passing game.
Ronnie Stanley versus Dean Lowry: Left tackle Ronnie Stanley has usually been Notre Dame’s best offensive lineman but he struggled as did most of the Irish offense last week. Stanley will need to bounce back this week when he faces versatile defensive lineman Dean Lowry. Lowry is a bit undersized at 280 pounds but at 6’6’’ it’s no surprise he leads the Wildcats with six pass breakups, something the Irish will need to be aware of as the Sun Devils batted down and intercepted many of the Irish’s quick passes. Lowry also has a team-high 3.5 sacks while playing defensive end and defensive tackle this season so Stanley and the rest of the offensive line must be aware of where he is lining up.