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Notre Dame Football: The Northwestern Hangover

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A double digit win on the road in November. YAY !

Notre Dame v Northwestern Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Another Sunday Hangover and and another win from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Golden Domers are 9-0 and should move up to #3 in the playoff rankings this week after beating the Northwestern Wildcats 31-21 in Evanston.

It doesn’t matter how skeptical you’ve been as a fan over the last decade, the Irish are doing things that they haven’t done in 25 years, and the 2018 season is shaping up to have a final run that we will remember for another 25 years.

What Notre Dame did in this game was kind of / sort of trash the “November curse” a little bit. Sure, there are still three games to go, but there were enough things that surrounded this game and enough things that happened in this game where the Fighting Irish football team would have normally fell flat on its face.

Your hangover is relieved.

DON’T TOUCH ME PATTY

I like it when a football game is just one small nudge away from having an all out brawl break out. Football is a physical and emotional game and any game that starts feeling like it’s getting out of hand is a great on in my book.

The hit on Jafar and subsequent ass splash was more comical than anything else (mostly because the ESPN mics were juiced up).

More troubling was when Pat Fitzgerald decided to put his hands on Jerry Tillery. I mean... Northwestern was holding all night — why stop at the head coach?

If that was Brian Kelly... worlds would have ended, and yet we let the screaming and unhinged Patty get away with it. C’mon bro

IAN BOOK IS HEAVEN FROM CALIFORNIA

The debate was heated and strong and sometimes got a little out of hand for about 5 or 6 months. Should Ian Book or Brandon Wimbush be starting at quarterback. This isn’t to rehash that argument, but to finally come clean that I was wrong. Ian Book is magnificent.

He had a rough first half. Book struggled a bit as Northwestern used different pressure packages that delayed his throws enough to fall off the mark. He went into the half 7 for 15 and 107 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Book’s second half saw him completing 15 of 19 for 236 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also sealed the victory with a 23 yard touchdown run late in the 4th quarter.

Book has absolutely been the missing ingredient to this offensive scheme from Chip Long, and during a night in which he saw a few difficult situations, he remained calm, cool, and collected. His steadiness is the reason Notre Dame is undefeated right now and inching towards a playoff berth.

THE DEFENSIVE CHANGE

The saying goes that “good defense travels,” and it’s absolutely correct. On paper, the Notre Dame defense had another really good night:

  • Northwestern had a grand total of 249 offensive yards
  • That 249 included 108 rushing yards and 149 passing yards

The Irish gave up 21 points, but 7 of those points came on a 17 yard scoring drive after a blocked punt. The pass rush was there as Te’von Coney had 2 sacks, Julian Okwara had 2.5 sacks and a QB hurry, and Khalid Kareem had a 12 sack as well.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Northwestern Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

There was an issue though, and it is one that still bites the Irish from time to time. That Nickel defense has been inconsistent. The first touchdown the Wildcats scored in the 4th quarter, for example, had Houston Griffith hip to hip with good coverage — but he was totally unaware of the ball in the air and Clayton Thorson hit Riley Lees for a 27 yard scoring strike. It’s a position and a defensive front that’s going to get tested in the coming weeks.

With Drue Tranquill still recovering a bit from hi injury, Jordan Genmark Heath got the start at Buck and rotated with Tranquill. How important is that position? JGH had 6 tackles and Tranquill had 5. Even with the Buck coming off the field in the Nickel, it was a position that was highly active during the game. How much will Drue’s health improve as we move toward the final 3 games of the season?

SOMETHING SPECIAL

Miles Boykin gets a ton of love and he should as the leading receiver in receptions, yards, and touchdowns... but Chase Claypool came to play football on Saturday night. Claypool played a physical game, and would not be denied the ball — or his yards afterwards. He finished the game with 8 receptions for 130 yards and a handful of really important first downs.

While points matter, on Saturday night, the plays that set up the scores mattered most against a very determined defensive unit. This effort got Chase the game ball from Coach Kelly after the game, and it was well-deserved.

NOT SO SPECIAL

Man... special teams was rough on Saturday night. There were at least 5 mistakes, but the big three were:

  • Missed FG from Justin Yoon
  • Blocked Tyler Newsome punt
  • Jonathan Doerer with another kick out of bounds

Now, a missed 44 yard field goal isn’t unheard of, but we have come to expect so much of Yoon that it certainly felt like a “gaffe.” The blocked punt looked like Alohi Gilman (a gunner) was supposed to at least chip the rushing defender, but the Northwestern player blew right past him. As far as Doerer goes... I just don’t get how he keeps doing this.

While the Irish still got a double digit win, but if it weren’t for special teams blunders — it could have been more. Of all things, the kickoff out of bounds was the least problematic as the resulting drive only went for 13 yards, but the ensuing punt pinned the Irish back on the 2 yard line (mistake #4 as Finke needed to field that). It was all forgiven though when the Irish went 98 yards in 6 plays for a Michale Young touchdown catch.

Still, the missed FG and the blocked punt accounted for a 10 point swing in a 10 point win.

MOVING FORWARD

Notre Dame will defend their undefeated record and top 4 ranking at home this Saturday against the Florida State Seminoles. It’s senior day, and even though Florida State is having a horrific season, they still have enough athletes to make things interesting. I wonder if a night game in November in South Bend will have any effect on the boys from the Sunshine State... LOLOLOL.