In 2014, Northwestern traveled to South Bend and came away victorious in an incredible game. Today, the two teams face off for the first time since 2014, at Ryan Field on ABC, in the first primetime night game since 2013 against Ohio State. While this game does not have any significance in Northwestern’s big ten race, it does have a major impact on Northwestern’s national relevance.
Not only would a win over an undefeated Notre Dame team ruin the perfect season, but it would also give Northwestern unparalleled national exposure. A win would cap off a stretch of games that would grant NU relevance and respect while leapfrogging the team into an established college football program.
In today’s game, Northwestern’s defense will deal with an Ian Book led the offense for the Irish. Book is a good, solid quarterback who ranges between a good game manager, and a savvy, accurate, quality quarterback. His best receiver is Miles Boykin who is a vertical threat.
Additionally, Notre Dame has a great running game, though, with multiple capable tailbacks. It starts with Dexter Williams, though, who averages nearly seven yards a rush. Behind him, Notre Dame has Tony Jones Jr who averages five yards a rush.
The Wildcats cannot allow ND to obliterate them on the ground as Carlos Hyde did to them back in 2013 in the last primetime game on ABC. Northwestern’s defense prides itself on bending, and not breaking, by allowing intermediate plays, but never big plays. Montre Hartage will shadow Boykin for Northwestern, and he is one of the most underrated defenders in the country.
He has been outstanding. Northwestern will limit the running game with the stout run defense, led by Jordan Thompson, Joe Graziano, and the twins: Alex Miller and Samdup Miller. Another great player along the defensive line is Earnest Brown IV. He does not start because he is an underclassman. NU’s defensive line is so deep, but Brown is one of Northwestern’s highest-rated recruits ever and has been a good pass rusher this season. I anticipate Brown to sack Book tonight.
Northwestern will play relatively conservative tonight, with four-man rushes, and Paddy Fisher, Nate Hall, Blake Gallagher and the rest of the linebackers in coverage tonight. The defense will be good enough for Northwestern to win tonight if it can generate turnovers on a QB who does not make many mistakes.
Offensively, similar to last week, I expect Northwestern to try and run the ball often and early tonight. The run should open up the pass, and Clayton Thorson will be able to thrive if this is the case.
If freshman Isaiah Bowser can run for his third consecutive 100-yard game again, Northwestern will pull this one out. In the passing game, look for Flynn Nagel and Bennett Skowronek. The two players are Thorson’s favorite targets as Nagel is his security blanket while Skowronek provides Northwestern with a deep ball threat. Overall, look for a balanced attack from NU tonight.
Prediction: I really think NU gets it done. NU is much better than the record indicates. ND is a great team, but I think the team is bound to lose, and Pat Fitzgerald will out-coach Brian Kelly. As long as the offensive line holds up (which is a big if), Northwestern will get the job done.
Northwestern: 24, Notre Dame: 20
Image: USA Today