Jack Mitchell, a preferred walk-on kicker, nailed a 41-yard field goal in overtime to shock the Irish at home 43-40 in overtime.
The Irish were due for a letdown and showed every bit of it today. The offense, while piling up yardage, turned the ball over at crucial times and Northwestern capitalized at every step.
The Irish started the scoring early with Golson running for a 62-yard touchdown, but things got antsy from there.
The defense, starting Freshman Drue Tranquill over Max Redfield and having Austin Collinsworth see his most game action all season, struggled mightily. Northwestern moved the ball in large chunk plays in the first half led by running backs Justin Jackson and Treyvon Green. Despite getting a defensive touchdown by team captain Austin Collinsworth, the Irish surrendered a whopping 547 yards to Northwestern's offense.
The Irish offense was led by running backs Tarean Folston, who rushed for 106 yards and a score and Will Fuller, who dominated today with 159-yards and three scores.
The Irish, with 10 minutes to go in the game, went up 11 points on a Golson strike to Fuller, but Kelly opted to go for the two-point conversion, which failed. On the ensuing kickoff, the Irish committed a personal foul penalty that moved the ball upfield and surrendered a touchdown with four minutes to go in the game. After Northwestern's two-point attempt fell short, the Irish were called for a questionable pass interference penalty that gave the Wildcats a second chance and they converted.
The Irish recovered a pooch kickoff and moved the ball at will, forcing the Wildcats to use their remaining timeouts. But then Cam McDaniel put the ball on the turf and Northwestern was able to move the ball into field goal range where Mitchell converted to put it into OT.
In OT, the Irish offense couldn't do anything and Kyle Brindza missed his third FG of the game, his second hooking the ball badly as the Irish kicking game looked out of sorts all afternoon and evening.
From there, the Wildcats played conservative and Mitchell nailed the field goal to complete the upset.
Some thoughts below:
Something is rotten in the state of
Denmark Notre Dame
My Hamlet pun aside, the Irish looked asleep, apathetic and flat out lousy today. The defense, while young as I said before, surrendered way too many yards and points to a bad Northwestern team. The offense was all over the place, gaining yards and putting up points, but coughing up the ball in crunch time by your veteran RB, Golson continuing to struggle in the turnover department and an O-Line that is softly regressing as the season continues. 23 turnovers this season. 23. That is a LOT. I don't know, but I'm pretty bearish on the Irish's chances to run the table from here on out. We haven't looked good, in my view, since the first half of the Florida State game and have scraped by ever since. We were exposed against ASU, had to grind out a win over Navy and then this fiasco today. It seems to me that we are in the midst of a free fall and we might be a 7-5 team. What do you think, folks?
Again, Folston is the feature back for the Irish
20 carries for 106 yards and a TD? Those are some nice numbers for the Irish RB and he was solid today. I'll say it and yes hindsight being 20-20 but Folston should've gotten McDaniel's carries at the end of the 4th. The game was settled and all the team needed to do was run three times. Cam couldn't do it. Folston did all game. Give him the rock.
Fuller for Team MVP? Perhaps.
Watching Will Fuller is fun. He reminds me a lot of Golden Tate, without the "dive into the Michigan State band" swagger. The guy is a nightmare in the open field and he runs very precise routes. He singlehandedly bailed out the Irish today, with a three-TD, 157-yard day. He might not get to Michael Floyd's records, but Fuller is going to go down as one of the best Irish WRs. This season, Fuller has been Mr. Reliable for the Irish offense, and deserves all the accolades that might and should come his way.
The defensive performance was something I sort of expected, but not as bad as today
Look at who played, guys. Drue Tranquill and Austin Collinsworth at Safety, Nyles Morgan at linebacker, Utupo getting considerable minutes, Butler at corner over Riggs, Martini on the field, etc. Face it, the defense is depleted. As a result, they struggled, especially in the running game. The defense was prone to surrendering large chunk yardage all day to a Northwestern team that had struggled all season to move the football. Part of that reason was the absence of Redfield but the sheer amount of youth on the field made it all but obvious that this was gonna be a tough pill to swallow for Irish fans expecting a stout D. That said, giving up so much yardage to Northwestern and so many points is very concerning. The team was due for a letdown after the ASU loss, but this was ugly. Very ugly.
Special Teams are special and not so special
I sided with Punter Bro on the decision to swap Zaire over Smith, but the problem today seemed to be Brindza. Two badly hooked kicks, but I'll defer to PB, but the new holder can mix up rhythm as well. Kicking was bad today and it was one of the many reasons why the Irish lost.
Questionable decisions by Kelly might've cost the Irish
The two-point conversion attempt was a head-scratcher at the time, but now it meant quite a bit. Continuing to rely on the kicking game when they were clearly out of sync didn't help. The defensive gameplan was borderline horrific, despite all the new personnel. But Kelly had some pretty odd decisions at times this game that came back to bite him and as a result, we might be seeing a rough outing from here on out.