Beyond the Boxscore: INside Notre Dame’s Rollercoaster Ride vs. Northwestern

Notre Dame QB Ian Book vs. Northwestern

In a game where momentum seemed to shift back and forth, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish were able to remain undefeated with a 31-21 road win over the Northwestern Wildcats on Saturday night. Those swings saw the Irish dominate the first and third quarters, while the Wildcats controlled the second and made things uncomfortable in the final quarter. In the latter case, they managed to get within a field goal with seven minutes left after Notre Dame had looked to have salted the contest away.

Irish fans might have been excused if they had a sense of deja vu from last week after Notre Dame fumbled in enemy territory on the opening drive of the game. Like the Navy game, the Irish defense kept Northwestern off the scoreboard and then controlled the remainder of the period before things got interesting.

Below are some of the key factors in the game:

Second Half Book

Ian Book managed to throw for 107 yards in the first half, though the bulk of that came during the first quarter. He also narrowly missed giving Northwestern the chance to take a halftime lead on an ill-advised throw that was nearly picked off. Once he came back on the field for the second half, he underwent a dramatic shift.

During the third, Book hit on 11 of 14 for 195 yards and two touchdowns, with the signal caller getting 170 of those yards on the two scoring drives. He finished with 343 yards and also managed to tie Dexter Williams in rushing yardage with 56 yards, the last 23 coming on a clever bootleg that put the game away.

Penalty Killers

The Irish appeared to be thriving offensively until their third drive of the game stalled out because of a pair of penalties that ultimately turned a potential touchdown into a big zero. The first came on first-and-goal at the Northwestern five when Robert Hainsey once again fell victim to a false start that moved the ball back to the 10. Far more costly was Miles Boykin then getting flagged for offensive interference, which moved things back to the 25 and resulted in Justin Yoon’s 44-yard missed field goal attempt.

Pass interference on the defensive side also proved to be costly, when Jalen Elliott was whistled in the end zone. That gave the Wildcats the ball at the Irish two and only required a pair of plays to knot the score at seven apiece. That helped put a cap on an 18-play drive that consumed close to nine minutes on the clock.

Running When It Counts

For only the second time in his five games in 2018, Dexter Williams was kept under 100 yards on the ground, finishing with 56 for the game. With Book enjoying a strong second half, the running game was largely ignored, but Williams’ 19-yard run with just under five minutes left in the contest put the Irish into Wildcat territory and led to Book’s clincher. That was the senior’s longest run of the night.

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Okwara on Fire

Continuing to build on what’s turned out to be an outstanding season, defensive lineman Julian Okwara picked up two of the five Notre Dame sacks on the evening. The most important of this pair came on Northwestern’s first drive to open the third quarter that had them facing third-and-eight at the Irish 46. Okwara relentlessly pursued Wildcat quarterback Clayton Thorson and forced a punt. While Jerry Tillery and Khalid Kareem have deeservedly got plenty of attention on the Irish line, Okwara has become a consistent presence as well.

Everyone Into the Claypool

In the season’s first eight games, Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool had been a reliable, if not spectacular, part of the team’s passing attack. Against Northwestern, he began the focal point of the team’s passing attack by finishing the night with eight catches for 130 yards.

Five of those grabs for Claypool were for double-digits in yardage, with his last on the night helping to give Notre Dame some breathing room on their clinching drive. Two others were part of the important first drive of the second half, with the Irish deadlocked in a tied battle at the time.

Next Up

The Florida State Seminoles come to South Bend for the Irish’s first home game in nearly a month and their last of the year. FSU will be entering the game with a 4-5 record on the year and looking to shore up a porous defense. In their past two contests, the Seminole defense has allowed 106 points, though both losses came against ranked opponents, including Clemson.

Florida State has a 6-2 advantage in this series that began in 1981, though this is their first time on Irish turf since 2003. Notre Dame will be looking to put an end to their three-game losing streak in this matchup, with their last battle in 2014 bringing back bad memories. That’s because they entered that clash with a 6-0 record before losing at Tallahassee and dropping five of their next six.

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9 comments

  1. SMOKEY ROB 2 weeks ago

    I HAVE BEEN SAYING WHAT CHRIS SAID FOR YEARS. 5 O LINEMEN CANNOT BLOCK 7, NO MATTER HOW GOOD THEY ARE. LOOK BACK TO CLEMSON A FEW YEARS AGO. CLEMSON BLITZED BOTH MLB’S ALL NIGHT TO STOP THE RUN. IT TOOK KELLY UNTIL THE FOURTH QUARTER TO COUNTER IT. QUICK SLANTS WERE OPEN ALL NIGHT. SCREENS, TOO. GLAD KELLY MADE ADJUSTMENTS AT HALFTIME SATURDAY NIGHT. NOT THAT HARD, CANNOT UNDERSTAND WHY IRISH COACHES TAKE SO LONG TO ADJUST. ADD EXTRA TIGHT END, AND AN H BACK TO EVEN THINGS UP. HOPEFULLY THEY GAMEPLAN BETTER IN THE FUTURE. ALSO, SOME NEW PLAYS WOULD BE NICE!

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  2. Greg Kelly 2 weeks ago

    I am one of the only ones that said the Irish would go 12-0. The highly esteemed BGC said we would be 11-1. Playoffs be damned. This will be a HUGE payday for Notre Dame. Well deserved.

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  3. pete calco 2 weeks ago

    I agree doc but I still don’t think Kelly is that elite coach that would ever give you a 50 50 chance to beat Alabama even if they had equal talent which we currently dont.I also don’t think we’re going to have to worry about it as I don’t think Notredame can beat Clemson either.

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  4. pete calco 2 weeks ago

    I want to see Notredame play 4 quarters of good football on all 3 units every game. If they do that and lose to a better team I m okay with that. Just tired of watching Notredames special teams every year be mediocre and Kelly’s offense be so up and down.Another thing I don’t understand is how Notredame puts a lot of o lineman in the NFL and has highly rated recruits every year of high school lineman but they can’t have a weekly dominant run game. Maybe it’s the scheme play calling lack of oline coaching who knows.

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    1. Doc Savage 2 weeks ago

      Pete I agree with everything you said but if you were on some other ND sites you’d garner about 15 thumbs down for your comment. I’m specifically referring to the “Inside the Irish” site. Some of those commentor’s at that site look at the Irish as if they were an elite team comparable to any team on the Earth. I have not seen ND play a game for four quarters like they usually play the last two quarters….balls out! My conclusion about the team is always the same and it goes like this. If the Irish go undefeated and if they have to play Alabama in the CFP, they will be spanked badly. I will add this though, Alabama will not beat this years Irish team as bad as they beat the 2012 team!

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    2. ChrisJ 2 weeks ago

      Pete,

      You can’t run the ball when you have 5 lineman (6 if TE is attached) and they have 7 or 8 defenders in the box. It’s just not going to happen no matter how good your lineman are or how good your RB is. NW and PITT both played defense against us like this and that is why we struggled to run the ball. I know I keep talking about this but Chip Long has to make adjustments to when defenses do this and he simply doesn’t until very late. If we stretched the defense early in the games if they load the box, they will have to back off which will open up the run game again.

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      1. pete calco 1 week ago

        I agree somewhat. But teams stack the box on Alabama.Teams put 8 in the box against Lous teams and Notredame would roll up 250 yards of rushing offense. How did they do it? I think it goes back to what Bill Regan former Notredame coach said and I think it’s what your saying you have to adjust and attack where the defense weakens itself by putting 8 in the box.

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      2. ChrisJ 1 week ago

        Pete,

        The difference is Alabama recognizes this pretty early and adjusts whether that is running outside or throwing more. Lou’s teams you can’t really compare to a stacked box because we ran the option with serious athletes. Running option opens up more man on man opportunities with multiple things to do on a run play. And yes, what Bill said is exactly right. You always takes what the defense gives you. The game is ALL about adjustments from the very beginning. You go in with a gameplan but if the other team does something different than what you saw on film all week leading up to the game, you change what you’re doing immediately to make your team more successful in game.

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    3. Jerseymick 2 weeks ago

      Pete

      Calling our ST “mediocre” is overly generous. They are flat out bad and need to improve dramatically.

      Agree with everything else you said. Go Irish!

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