Northwestern Wildcats (5-3) welcomed #3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-0) to Ryan Field on Saturday night, with the Fighting Irish hoping to continue their march to the College Football Playoffs (CFP).
It was by no means Notre Dame’s best performance of the season. The result was still in doubt deep into the fourth quarter. However, the Irish move one step closer to their first CFP appearance with three more obstacles to overcome.
Notre Dame had an early let off three minutes into the game when a mistake between quarterback Ian Book and running back Dexter Williams resulted in a fumble, that was recovered by Northwestern. The resultant 39-yard field goal attempt was missed.
A low scoring first half saw a one-yard touchdown run by Williams put Notre Dame 7-0 up in the first quarter. In the second quarter, a one-yard run by Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson tied the game for a halftime scoreline of 7-7.
Irish come alive in the second half
In the third quarter, Irish junior quarterback Book looked a different player. First, a 20-yard touchdown pass to Miles Boykin put the Irish 14-7 ahead. Then a 47-yard touchdown pass to Michael Young extended their lead to 14 points.
A 43-yard field goal in the fourth quarter gave Notre Dame a seemingly unsurmountable 24-7 lead. Northwestern weren’t finished though. A spectacular 27-yard touchdown pass from Thorson to Riley Lees brought the Wildcats within 10 points. When Northwestern blocked a punt, it set them up at the Notre Dame 17-yard line. Their possession finished with a one-yard quarterback sneak by Thorson to close the gap to just three points.
Notre Dame took the win with just 2.52 left on the clock. Book ran in a 23-yard touchdown for the 31-21 victory.
The scenario for Notre Dame is now simple. Win their last three games and they are heading to the playoffs. I don’t expect Florida State or USC to challenge. The most difficult of their last three games is likely to come in two weeks’ time when they face (7-2) Syracuse in Yankee Stadium. Although it wasn’t pretty for the Irish on Saturday night, it is unlikely they will slip up with the semi-finals in sight.
Meanwhile, Northwestern lead the Big 10 West by one game. With three conference games to come, their fate is in their own hands.
This is a contribution from our guest writer Mark Holmes @hailaway.
Above image courtesy of @NDFootball