The Notre Dame Fighting Irish started the game off strong, both defensively and offensively, building a 24-7 lead into the fourth quarter. However, after a Clayton Thorson touchdown and a blocked punt which led to another score, the Northwestern Wildcats roared back to cut the lead to 3. Suddenly, a game that the Irish had dominated, was slipping away, with the score 24-21 late.
This was an critical drive, which got off to a great start with Chase Claypool and Dexter Williams making plays to immediately get them across the 50. After a great pitch and catch from Book to Miles Boykin put them safely into field goal range, the Irish ran back to back run plays, bringing up third down with 2:52 remaining. Ian book heads up to the line, third and 4, from the Northwestern 23 (I am currently and vividly remembering my heart beating through my chest)
Book heads to the line from the left hash, with Dexter Williams to his right and Cole Kmet slotted to the right as an H back, with 3 receivers split right. At third and 4, this is an in between area where the Irish could really do anything. I was expecting some type of RPO option, leaning towards quick slant on out Boykin or Claypool, who both had very strong nights. Northwestern was crowding the box and looked like be in a man coverage, clearly trying to take away short stick routes.
Kmet immediately traps right, and this looks to be a counter play to feed Dexter Williams. Additionally, there is some great smoke and mirrors on the right, with Boykin faking a bubble screen to draw as much middle of the field help as possible away from the line.
Book now focuses his eyes towards the defensive end to make his read. He has the option to give to Williams, or pull the ball. This is a split second read where he must determine if the end will crash down, or if he will hold outside contain. If the end keeps contain, he will give to Williams, but if they crash down, he will pull the ball and let Kmet be his lead blocker around the outside.
I will be honest. This is a BRUTAL read for Book to have to make here. The end crashed down hard, but as you can see, the linebacker doesn’t appear to have gone for the fake. He is sitting back and looks to have a 2 way go based on what Book ends up doing. I may have given the ball to Williams, trusting him 1 on 1 vs. a linebacker, as opposed to. Book 1 on 1 vs. a linebacker.
Fortunately, I was not in at quarterback and he absolutely made the right read as the linebacker bites late and keys on Williams. Even more fortunately, Kmet is able to stonewall the end, and then get free to lead block as Book pulls the ball after an incredible ball fake. With the linebacker crashing, there is NO ONE home and Book easily heads into the end zone with a lead blocker and no one to block.
This was a great call and an even better read by Book, whole put the play into his hands at the critical moment.
This game felt comfortable for the first 3 quarters. The offense and the defense were clicking, and Northwestern had no answers. After they came back, this felt like a game the Irish could lose, despite dominating nearly the entire game. This play was critical in showing Notre Dame and Ian Book could step up on a big (ish) stage in November and win on the road. That alone, cannot be understated!
Thought it should be a different play? Let me know! As this is a new column taking place over the course of the next few weeks, I would love any and all feedback, and as always, GO IRISH!