What to Expect at Northwestern

Notre Dame looks towards the Northwestern Wildcats this week as they try and keep the unbeaten streak going. After being slighted in the playoff rankings, they should be ready to prove themselves against a talented Northwestern team.

I will just come out and say it, Northwestern scares me. This is a team I cannot figure out and they have some talent and connections to a former Notre Dame opponent.

Northwestern is currently on a four game win streak and has beaten Michigan State and Wisconsin the last two weeks. While they sit at 5-3, they have been hot as of late and rebounded from their early season losses to Duke and Akron.

That is what is so hard to figure out with this team, how good are they?

The connections

Northwestern Head Coach, Pat Fitzgerald, has known and coached against Pat Narduzzi since his time at Michigan State. Fitzgerald also spent time with now Pitt linebackers coach, Randy Bates, when he was on the Northwestern coaching staff last season.

Pitt seemed to lay out the blue print to stop Notre Dame a few weeks ago. Hold the ball, run the clock and stiff defense almost got the job done against the Irish. At the end of the day, Pitt just didn’t have the talent to get the job done. Northwestern, while not a powerhouse, has some talent on this years roster. While Michigan State and Wisconsin are not world beaters by any means, the wins shouldn’t be overlooked.

Northwestern comes in with a strong defense and a weak offense that moves as the running game goes. It is a more talented Pitt team to try and generalize them the best I can. They have struggled with QB play and inaccuracy all season while being led by Clayton Thorson. Thorson is a capable QB but really doesn’t do well under pressure as you can see in the Michigan game. But if given time to set his feet and throw, he does have talented receivers around him that could give Julian Love a run.

The starting running back had to retire due to health reasons but the incumbent starter, Isaiah Bowser, has been solid this season since taking over. With that said, I won’t lie, Northwestern has a below average offense that is currently ranked around 100th in the country. They will have their hands full with Notre Dame all day and I wouldn’t expect anything over 21 points, that should be the high side. Michigan is the only other similar caliber defense that Northwestern has seen and they walked out of the loss with 17 points.

Notre Dame Offense VsĀ  Northwestern Defense

This game will come down to Notre Dame’s offense versus the Northwestern defense. Ian Book and Dexter Williams will be up against a talented front seven and a defense that is top 30 in the country.

This will be a game that will be tight for a while and I see Notre Dame softening them up later in the game. Expect Williams and Jafar Armstrong to be bottled up for most of the first half before they find any running room.

The Irish offensive line is going to need to be ready to play for this game to stay on track, but more specifically, giving Ian Book time to throw. This is going to be the toughest defense Book has had to face this season. We have witnessed in the Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh games what happens when Ian Book can’t get going. The offense stalls and they load the box to shut down the run.

Bitterness between the two

While Northwestern has talent, Notre Dame just has more and it could be what causes some bitterness between the two. Northwestern, because of its close proximity, is full of Notre Dame cast offs that were snubbed in recruiting and would love nothing more then sticking it to the Fighting Irish.

Notre Dame is also coming off a win in California and then had to travel to Northwestern. While only a couple hour bus ride, that is still a lot of travel for a team in one week. But Notre Dame shouldn’t come out flat though as they should have a chip on their shoulder.

With the release of the playoff rankings, Notre Dame was jumped by one loss LSU. Most Notre Dame fans felt slighted and rightfully so. This is a team that has beaten every team across from them and can’t earn the respect of the country. They need to come out and prove they belong and Northwestern is just the team to prove it against.

Final Prediction

As mentioned earlier, I am worried with Northwestern, but truthfully I feel like this every week. Notre Dame on paper has an easy schedule left, but that is far from the case. Northwestern is another step to build off of and continue the long, grueling march to a playoff berth.

Northwestern should get smothered on offense and this game will come down to one number, 20. If Notre Dame can hold the Wildcats to 20, then score more then 20, it will be a win for the Irish.

Northwestern only allows about 20 PPG and the offense isn’t great. This could be close just like Pitt so it really will be that race to 21. I fully expect the Notre Dame defense to hold Northwestern to 20, but Ian Book needs to continue his ways and keep the offense moving.

It will be rough sailing early but they will start to pull away in the second half. Notre Dame will need to grind the Wildcats down before they start to really get going. So Irish fans, don’t stress, but it will be stressful early.

Once the running game gets going, it’ll be all up hill and the Irish will pull away to win with an efficient as always, Ian Book.

Notre Dame 30 Nothwestern 17

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