Entering their game against the Northwestern Wildcats on Saturday night, the Irish knew it was going to be a challenge for sixty minutes. Every team always gives Notre Dame their best shot. However, that is even more true this year as Notre Dame went into Saturday’s game a perfect 8-0 on the season and ranked number four in the first College Football Playoff rankings. Notre Dame was not the only team playing really good football, though. Northwestern came into the game riding a four game winning streak that most recently saw them beat Wisconsin 31-17 at home.
The game began in all too familiar fashion for Notre Dame fans. For the second weekend in a row the Irish coughed the ball up on their opening possession. Although it did not cost them any points, moving forward they must try and eliminate the early self-inflicted wounds as much as possible.
In what was a slow start to the game offensively for both teams, as the game was knotted at seven at halftime, Notre Dame came out of the break and scored 14 points in the third quarter thanks in part to two Ian Book touchdown passes. Notre Dame also put the first points on the board in the fourth quarter with a 43 yard Justin Yoon field goal to extend their lead to 24-7.
Even though they were trailing by 17, Northwestern deserves a lot of credit for continuing to fight and give Notre Dame all they could handle until the end of the game. They trimmed the lead to three points with roughly seven minutes remaining in the final quarter. On Notre Dame’s very next drive after the lead was cut to three, they put together a very solid 10 play drive that ate up a little over four minutes of the clock and encompassed 89 yards.
If any doubt crept into my mind as to whether or not Notre Dame is a legitimate championship contender this year, it was washed away with Notre Dame’s final touchdown drive of the fourth quarter to seal the victory. After Northwestern scored and there was still a good amount of time left on the clock, I was very curious to see how the offense would respond on the road with their backs against the wall. Their response blew me away. Being able to drive down the field and put seven points on the board is something I am not sure previous Notre Dame teams could have done. The drive really speaks to the poise of Ian Book under pressure as well as the offensive belief that they can come through in the clutch.
All in all, this game featured a lot of good things but also left some to be desired as well. When the offense was struggling in the first half, the defense stepped up. Similarly, after Northwestern made it a one possession game, the Notre Dame offense responded in a championship manner. With that said, having another early turnover as well as eight penalties is something I am sure Notre Dame is not too happy about and will address before their game against Florida State. For now, though, Notre Dame remains perfect and that is what matters.
Image courtesy of Chicago Tribune