Preview ’18: Notre Dame Looks to End 2-Game Skid to Northwestern

For the first time since 1975, the Notre Dame football schedule has a road game at Northwestern’s Ryan Field scheduled. While Notre Dame holds a commanding 36-9-2 lead in the series, they’ll be seeking to stop a two-game losing streak, with their last meeting taking place in 2014.

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald is hoping that last year’s 10-3 record will lay the groundwork for a berth in this year’s Big Ten title game. While a number of assistant coaching changes have taken place, the good news is that many of the major cogs in the machine are back.

[Related: Read up on Notre Dame’s 2018 opponents in our on-going series of posts on opponent previews]

Northwestern Offense: The Question Behind Center

The major focus of concern during the summer will be the continued comeback of quarterback Clayton Thorson, who’s still recovering from a torn ACL suffered in last year’s bowl game. The hope is that he’ll be available by the opener against Purdue, especially after throwing for over 2,800 yards last season.

At running back, the baton has been passed to Jeremy Larkin, whose 503 yards supplemented the 1,300 yards gained by the departed Justin Jackson. The fact that Larkin can deliver strong bursts of speed could help blunt the impact of losing the school’s all-time leading rusher.

Among the receivers, the good news for Northwestern is that both of their top receivers are back in Flynn Nagel and Ben Skowronek. This pair combined for 93 receptions last season that was good for over 1,00 yards and seven touchdowns. At tight end, Cameron Green is now the main target after 20 receptions last season for the former wideout.

On the offensive line, four starters are back after finding their groove in the latter portion of the 2017 season. The hope is that the performances of this unit are a starting point and now tha apex of their potential. While Tommy Doles received some postseason awards recognition at right guard, the player that will likely emerge as the focal point is Rashawn Slater, who started all but one of last year’s games as a true freshman.

Northwestern Defense: Health is the Key

Possessing a sturdy wall against opposing runners up front, the Wildcats will have three key players on the line. In the middle, Jordan Thompson will need to fill the hole left by Tyler Lancaster, with only a small margin of error available because of the depth in this area. On the ends, Samdup Miller and Joe Gaziano are another duo that keeps passers on their toes after combining for 14.5 sacks last year.

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When it comes to the linebackers, the need to stay healthy for the starters is important because of the lack of depth. The two cornerstones are Nate Hall, who had five sacks and paced the team with 16.5 tackles-for-loss, and Paddy Fisher, who has big-play potential.

On the injury front in the secondary, this area could use the return three players who can help make up for the absence of both of last year’s starting safeties. Trae Williams and Alonzo Mayo combined for 45 tackles, with Mayo delivering a pick-six along the way. The main man to watch here will be cornerback Montre Hartage, who ended the year with 57 tackles, a pair of interceptions and six pass deflections.

Northwestern Special Teams: A Mixed Bag

The Wildcats have a placekicker in Charlie Kuhbander who can handle the job, though his leg strength remains a major question mark. At punter, Jake Collins is expected to handle duties after transferring from Western Kentucky. Northwestern gets a major weapon back on the kick return unit in Solomon Vault, who has shown he can find the end zone, with four career scores. On the punt return side, there’s less enthusiasm.

The Last Time Notre Dame Played Northwestern

That 2014 meeting on the Notre Dame football schedule was a wild, 43-40, overtime heartbreaker. Notre Dame held a 40-29 lead with 10 minutes left in regulation, but Northwestern extended the game on a field goal with 19 seconds remaining. Then, after Kyle Brindza missed a 42-yard field goal attempt, the Wildcats won it on a 41-yard effort. Everett Golson threw for 287 and three scores, all of them going to Will Fuller.

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24 Comments

  1. Then of course there is Ara Raoul Parseghian.

    He was never on the losing sideline of a Notre Dame Northwestern game.

    When he coached the Wildcats (it is apocryphal, but college football lost a chance to take a great leap forward when Northwestern declined, by Jimi Hendrix to rename their squad “the Purple Haze” and when Texas chose to stick with the Quaalude cow,
    Bevo, rather than renaming the squad “the Fighting Armadilloes”) Ara always won against Notre Dame
    When Ara coached Notre Dame he beat Northwestern every time he played them.

    1. Liked Ara , wide open, however when He was going for national title in ‘66, he smoked SoCal 51 zip. Sure that got Him national title, but McKay lost but one and tied one in remainder of His career agin Irish. And by the way who were the esteemed Irish coaches that fell to Ara, Kuharich and DeVore.

    2. Hey folks , Purdue soon to be back on schedule —-their trending up —and they are very , very hungry for some corn beef and cabbage and to eliminate John Wayne/Maureen O’Hara from TCM late night flicks about The Ould Sod.

      1. Southside, I liked the Purdue/Michigan State home and home series. Those games were often the “senior alumni” games…now apparently replaced by “MAC” games. Sad.

        BGC ’77 ’82

      2. Southside I demur. West Lafayette is the Afghanistan of foot ball. In the days of yore with Fat Jack Mollenkopf, Purdue stocked its roster with both Catholic League and Public League kids from Chicago. They supplemented that with kids from “Da Region” All three are now dry holes..

      3. Duranko, nephews of mine go to many ND road games. Perdoo the worst fans by far, rednecks. I asked how could that be such a well known respected Engineering Institution. They said repairing John Deere tractors and Cats.

  2. This is probably a potential dark horse game for a road upset…but I have it as a win for us anyway. As long as we are ready to play, we should prevail. I think the defense wins this one for us…especially our front seven.

    BGC ’77 ’82

    1. BGC, I take back that one win, makes it even more painful. I had to live with Traveler excreting on us quite a while. Terry Donahue then came in to The UClaners and evened the playing field out west. The Irish then rattled off a 12 game winning streak vs. Troy.

  3. “2-game skid against Northwestern”? We’ll beat ’em. They’re a BigTerd team. The REAL challenge is skating (hockey, of course) against NorthEASTERN University. They are a quiet hockey team NotreDame has serious trouble with.

  4. Few coaches have consistently done more with less than Pat Fitzgerald. Too bad this game won’t be a job interview.

    1. David, it may not be an interview, but it may be a precursor for the future. I agree with you on Mr. Fitzgerald…kind of like Mike Brey.

      1. Fitz got a significant pay bump in 2016, and then a long extension in 2017. So they’d have to pay Kelly a king’s ransom to leave, then cover the N’western buyout.

        ND ain’t getting the coach of the purple cats…..they’re stuck with the purple cat.

      2. Mike Brey is a career mediocrity, who sat like a spayed cat in South Bend while Brad Stevens of the Butler Hinkle Bulldogs made it to two final fours.

        Brey has been to many final fours, and paid for his ticket each time.

        Brey is the Antonio Salieri of college basketball.

      3. Duranko; Many Notre Dame basketball coaches have routinely been bitch-slapped by their counterpart coaches from the State of Indiana…not just Mike Brey. I’m telling you, the people of this state, my state, do not even consider ND to be an Indiana basketball team! We even struggle to beat extension colleges around here!

        PS: We own the bastards in football though…always have! Get ready to rack up a 31 point win over Ball State…it would be more if Coach Kelly wasn’t a gentleman.

        BGC ’77 ’82

      4. DOUBLE PS: The above comment does not apply to our women’s B-Ball teams, in large part because they seem to fight fire with fire. Muffet heavily recruits homegrown Indiana superstars and lunch bucket gals who have played b-ball in this state since they were toddlers. Smart!

        BGC ’77 ’82

    2. Yeah he,s been at northwestern for 12 years and no team has come calling for him ever!! 5 winning seasons 7 losing seasons!!! 3-5 in bowl games!! WOW that’s your candidate dopey dave ? REALLY!!! All the great young coaches out there and that’s your pick, WHAT A DOPE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I thought it would b the coach of FLA. ST you know with the SIMPLISTIC VELOSITY !! hahahahahahah

      1. Writes with sour grapes like he was shown egress at Political rally. “ How can you tell”

    3. what exactly has he done? no top 15 finishes ever in 12 years!! EVERY other team in the big 10 has replaced their coach in that time , none of them interviewed fitzgerald , NONE !!! You really set the bar high there!! Same old stupidity, never anything intelligent !!!

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