No. 4 Notre Dame Holds Off Northwestern, 31-21
Notre Dame’s November “Redemption Tour” toward a College Football Playoff bid began with a hard-fought 31-21 victory at Northwestern on Saturday night.
With a 9-12 record in November the past five years, the Fighting Irish made improvement this month a priority since the first winter workout in January.
Following a 7-7 tie at halftime, the No. 4-ranked and now 9-0 Fighting Irish opened the second half with 80- and 98-yard touchdown drives, built the lead up to 24-7 early in the fourth quarter, and held off a late Northwestern charge that cut it to 24-21 by responding with an 89-yard scoring drive in the closing minutes.
After finishing only 7 of 15 passing in the first half, junior quarterback Ian Book and the Irish passing attack found their rhythm, with Book finishing 22 of 34 for 343 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions. Book also rushed 11 times for a team-high tying 56 yards — highlighted by his 23-yard scoring scamper that closed out the scoring. Senior running back Dexter Williams added 56 yards on the ground of his own but needed 19 carries on a night when a stout Northwestern front held Notre Dame to 121 yards rushing.
Junior receiver Chase Claypool had his best game of the year with eight catches for 130 yards, while senior Miles Boykin and sophomore Michael Young both snared third quarter scoring passes from Book. The Notre Dame defense limited the Wildcats to 249 yards total offense.
FIRST QUARTER: Notre Dame 7, Northwestern 0
Top Moment: Following a missed field goal by Northwestern on its first series, Notre Dame drove 79 yards in 14 plays that took 5:33 and concluded with Williams’ one-yard touchdown run with 6:28 remaining.
Top Performer: Book completed 6 of 11 passes for 98 yards, to four different receivers, and also carried four times for 13 yards.
Stats: Notre Dame’s 27 plays netted 144 yards (98 passing, 46 rushing), while Northwestern’s 12 plays accounted for 36 yards (2 of 7 passing for 19 yards, and five carries for 17 yards).
Items: On the game’s fourth play, a missed handoff exchange between Book and Williams resulted in a lost fumble that Northwestern linebacker Blake Gallagher recovered at the Notre Dame 36-yard line. Northwestern was unable to capitalize when kicker Charles Kuhbander’s 39-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right with 12:01 left … The Irish also missed a field goal, a 44-yard attempt by senior Justin Yoon at 1:40, after it had a first-and-goal at the Northwestern four-yard line before getting pushed back by two penalties.
SECOND QUARTER: Notre Dame 7, Northwestern 7
Top Moment: Following Notre Dame’s missed field goal in the first quarter, Northwestern went on a methodical march of 73 yards on 18 plays that milked 8:36 off the clock and ended with quarterback Clayton Thorson sneaking over from the one-yard line for the tally. On fourth-and-five from the Irish 21-yard line, Bennett Skowronek made a sensational one-handed catch on the run for seven yards to keep the drive alive.
Top Performer: Northwestern’s defense on Notre Dame’s two possessions limited the Irish to eight plays and 18 yards, including forcing an incomplete pass on third-and-one on the second.
Meanwhile, freshman running back Isaiah Bowser was the workhorse for the Wildcats with 14 first-half carries for 51 yards, mainly 11 attempts for 39 yards during the second quarter.
Stats: The Wildcats out-gained the Irish in total yardage during the second quarter 80-18. They ran 25 plays compared to Notre Dame’s eight.
Items: Notre Dame ran 35 plays in the first half for 162 yards (107 passing, 55 rushing), while Northwestern’s 37 netted 116 (63 rushing, 53 passing). Book was only 1 of 4 passing in the second quarter for nine yards and finished the first half 7 of 15 for 107 yards.
THIRD QUARTER: Notre Dame 21, Northwestern 7
Top Moment: After Northwestern’s punt on the opening possession of the half, Notre Dame drove 80 yards in 11 plays, with Book completing 7 of 9 passes for 77 yards, capping it with a 20-yard touchdown pass on third-and-five to Boykin in the end zone. That drive set a tone with the pass that would continue the ensuring series for the Irish.
Top Performer: On the two touchdown drives of 80 and 98 yards, Book completed 10 of 13 yards for 169 yards and two touchdowns. He then connected on a 26-yard toss to senior wideout Chris Finke on the final play of the third quarter to finish 11 of 14 for 195 yards in the quarter.
Stats: Notre Dame out-gained Northwestern 209 to 32 in total yards during this quarter.
Items: A nine-yard sack by junior drop end Julian Okwara on third-and-eight from Notre Dame’s 46-yard line on the first possession of the second half forced a Northwestern punt.
On their second series of the half with a 14-7 lead, the Irish were backed up at their two-yard line, but on second-and-10 Book launched a 31-yard completion to Claypool. Four plays later, Book went deep again, this time connecting with Young on a 47-yard touchdown pass with 2:33 remaining to build a 21-7 cushion.
FOURTH QUARTER: Notre Dame 31, Northwestern 21
Top Moment: Leading only 24-21 and facing third-and-four at the Northwestern 23-yard line, Book faked to Williams on the zone play and took it wide for a touchdown with no one near him and the 10-point lead with 2:45 left in the contest. That legerdemain concluded a 10-play, 89-yard drive that took 4:20.
Top Performer: Besides the 23-yard scoring run, Book had a nine-yard scamper and also snuck for a first down on third-and-one from his 40-yard line. Book also completed two passes for 35 yards during the game-deciding march.
Stats: Notre Dame finished with 464 yards total offense (343 passing, 121 rushing) while the Wildcats had 249 yards (141 passing, 108 rushing).
Items: Yoon’s 43-yard field expanded Notre Dame’s lead to 24-7 with 13:05 remaining. Northwestern followed with a 70-yard drive that concluded with a 27-yard touchdown pass from Thorson to Riley Lees, who was covered well by freshman nickel Houston Griffith in the end zone but was able to gain enough inside position to make the catch with 11:10 remaining.
With Notre Dame leading 24-14, a blocked punt by defensive back Cameron Ruiz gave Northwestern possession at Notre Dame’s 17-yard line, and on fourth-and-goal from the one Thorson snuck in for his second score to cut its deficit to 24-21 at the 7:05 mark.