Northwestern opened up the upset playbook on Saturday night, covered several pages, then found out their game plan had limits as the Fighting Irish talent was too much to overcome. With moments of dominance, Notre Dame’s 9th win of the season was sprinkled in with lots of frustration in a close game until a gut-check touchdown drive by the good guys late in the 4th quarter.
Here’s a recap of the win on the road at Northwestern.
|Yards Per Play||6.3||3.6|
Book had 8 incompletions in the first half. He’s regressing! On a serious note, the trend continues for Book to struggle a little bit in the opening 2 quarters before halftime adjustments open up the door to more productivity. How do we look at this? Should the offense be more prepared out of the gate? Or, are we happy that the adjustments seem to be on point for the most part?
Nevertheless, Book finishes with very stout numbers despite his completion percentage falling to 64.7% in the game, the first start this season he fell below 71.4% which was the previous low against Virginia Tech. It was the 3rd highest rated of his 6 starts while his 10.1 yard per attempt mark was the highest for a full game in his young career. Also, Book snapped his 3-game interception streak.
Heading into the week, Book now sits as the country’s 6th-best quarterback in passer rating with a real chance to move up to 4th behind Kyler Murray, Tua Tagovailoa, and Will Grier before the season is complete. He may not be invited to New York City but there’s a possibility Ian Book finishes something like 9th in Heisman voting this year.
I thought the offensive line very quietly absolutely shut down Northwestern’s pass rush. We should commend them for that. The Wildcats finished with only 2 hurries and didn’t register a sack. For the most part, Book had plenty of time to go through progressions.
Five players caught passes of at least 20 yards, that’s a big win for the offense in a game against a stout run defense. Chase Claypool–who received the game ball–didn’t set career highs but put up one heck of a performance with 8 receptions and 130 yards.
Notre Dame found a few short-yardage wins, a few medium runs, and one timely touchdown run from Ian Book. Other than that, it was a long night for the Irish ground game.
Interestingly, a week after seemingly letting Jafar Armstrong run free coming off injury he wasn’t getting many snaps against Northwestern. This looked like a “lean on the senior on the road” type of game even though Dexter Williams didn’t find much success out there.
Irish Running Success
Williams – 7 of 19 (36.8%)
Book – 5 of 11 (45.4%)
Armstrong – 2 of 4 (50.0%)
Jones – 1 of 3 (33.3%)
TOTAL – 15 of 37 (40.5%)
In the moment this seemed like a pretty poor rushing performance. Even if Northwestern’s front was strong against the run Notre Dame’s 3.03 yards per carry average was the 3rd best effort for the Wildcats this year. And remember, that’s without any sacks.
The Irish opened the game being successful on just 1 of their first 9 carries so if you want to be positive the offense was trending a little better finishing with success on 14 of the last 28 carries.
However, the legs of Ian Book absolutely made a difference. He gets credited with an unsuccessful run on the early fumbled exchange with Dexter, although he had runs of 9 yards (3rd & 11) and 6 yards (3rd & 7) that would ultimately set up 4th down conversions to continue drives. In a way, it felt like Book had success 70% of the time.
Got ’em. pic.twitter.com/uN7A31sWQs
— 18 Stripes (@18stripes) November 4, 2018
Obviously, Book’s game-sealing touchdown was a thing of beauty. That whole drive could go down as one of the top clutch moments of the season. Backed up after a holding call on the punt, a 10-play 89-yard touchdown drive came through for the victory.
In a bit of a shocking development, Northwestern stayed patient with their running game (more on this below) and Thorson only threw 29 passes, 10 fewer than his season average coming into the game. Unfortunately for the Wildcats their passing game did very little to help their cause.
Thorson finished with a paltry 4.86 yards per attempt and maybe the reason why Northwestern ran so much on first down was because their quarterback finished 3 of 9 for 22 yards and just one 1st down throw.
On third down, Thorson was far more effective with chain-moving throws of 10, 11, and 6 yards plus the 27-yard touchdown pass down the seam on Houston Griffith in coverage. He also had a 7-yard pass on 4th down to keep a drive alive. However, Notre Dame also notched 3 of their 5 sacks on 3rd down.
The Wildcats barely challenged the perimeter or deep down field, mostly taking advantage of Notre Dame’s linebackers with shallow crossing routes. It worked just enough to be annoying, but that’s about it.
I may be a Debbie Downer but I thought this might’ve been the worst performances of the year for this aspect of the defense. True, they were rotating liberally up front and Tranquill wasn’t playing much and nowhere near 100% healthy but still this was not a good opponent ground game.
What stuck out to me was Northwestern’s success on first down. They managed 68 yards on 16 first down carries for 4.25 per rush while never getting much off schedule. There were zero tackles for loss on first down for the Irish which kept Northwestern pretty safe relying on their short-passing game.
Additionally, the Northwestern drive that began at the end of the first quarter and ended with under 8 minutes remaining in the 2nd quarter witnessed Notre Dame allowing 8 successful runs on 12 attempts. The Wildcats simply weren’t explosive but they were able to grind out yards and keep things moving on this drive which totally changed the dynamic of the game until the Irish caught fire in the 3rd quarter.
Wildcats Rushing Success
Bowser – 11 of 23 (47.8%)
Vault – 1 of 2 (50.0%)
Hanaoka – 1 of 2 (50.0%)
Nagel – 0 of 1 (0.0%)
Lees – 0 of 1 (0.0%)
Thorson – 3 of 6 (50.0%)
TOTAL – 16 of 35 (45.7%)
Yet, as we’ve seen most of this season as the game wears on the Irish defense leans on its opponent and they slowly break. Northwestern packed half of their successful runs into that one touchdown drive and there’s only so much consternation you can have for a defense that allowed 249 yards and 3.61 yards per play. Those were the 2nd best efforts of the season for each stat.
Yoon came back from injury and missed from 44 yards while hitting from 43 yards. Jonathan Doerer kicked another ball out of bounds, and Northwestern blocked a punt in the 4th quarter that would lead to a touchdown from the 17-yard line. It was another rough day for special teams.
Although, the Finke 19-yard punt return to midfield which set up the early 4th quarter field goal was a big play in hindsight.
I thought the completion to Claypool (3rd to last highlight in the video below) to open up the final touchdown drive was absolutely massive. Northwestern had grabbed so much momentum and closed the game to a 3-point lead. Notre Dame was backed up to its 11-yard line and then with one pass they got breathing room and some of their own momentum after Claypool’s 21-yard grab.
Ian Book’s 4th down sneak and Dexter Williams’ 19-yard run that followed it were all major turning points on this same drive leading to the touchdown.
1 WR Chase Claypool – Held without a touchdown but most clutch in this game.
2 QB Ian Book – Ho hum, 399 total yards and 3 touchdowns.
3 LB Te’von Coney – Without Tranquill next to him for most of the game he was a complete leader with a team-high 10 tackles with 2 sacks and a pass break-up.
Amazingly, Tranquill picked up 5 solo tackles on damn near half an ankle. We saw Jordan Genmark Heath pick up his first career start and he was…serviceable? That’s a big move for him going into next year with added experience.
I thought it was a little curious that the Irish offense didn’t run a single bootleg to the tight end. Obviously, it hasn’t been a super explosive play this year but I thought it would’ve punished Northwestern for stacking the middle so often, especially early in the game. The same principle applies on Book’s rushing touchdown near the end. Northwestern got completely sucked in and the edge was wide open.
It was covered during the broadcast that Tommy Kraemer came in at right guard for Trevor Ruhland. I have to think we haven’t seen the end to this positional battle, although it does look like Aaron Banks is beginning to cement himself at left guard after a couple starts.
Through the first 3 games of the season with Wimbush at quarterback the offense averaged 5.09 yards per play. Since then, they’ve improved by a full yard per play (amazing, really) to a more respectable 45th nationally. In the Book starts, the offense is averaging 6.51 YPP which would fall in 21st nationally through week 10. The defense has held steady all season, being at 4.55 in Wimbush’s 3 games and now at 4.56 on the season through all 9 contests. That’s tied for 10th nationally with Alabama. The current +1.5 YPP differential is the best of the Kelly era, the best since 1996, and 6th best for the school since 1984.