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irish insider

Head to head: Northwestern

| Friday, November 2, 2018

Observer Sports Staff | The Observer

Irish Passing

While most of the Irish attack came through the ground game last weekend, the return of sophomore running back Jafar Armstrong adds another weapon for Ian Book as Chip Long’s offense continues to hone its ability. The Irish were incredibly efficient through the air against Navy, with Book going 27-33 and over 300 yards on the day, and Miles Boykin has steadily become a top target with another two touchdown receptions against the Midshipmen. With Book under center, Notre Dame’s passing attack has steadily climbed up the national rankings, and the Wildcats aren’t anything to write home about in defending the pass. There’s no reason the Irish slow down in this one.

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

Irish Rushing

Forget stats for a second. Notre Dame’s rushing attack is simply fun to watch and it gets more and more exciting by the week as it grows and evolves. Last week, with Armstrong back in action, the Irish were a force to be reckoned with, as Armstrong, senior Dexter Williams and senior Tony Jones Jr. as saw the field. Notre Dame’s rushing attack is unique in that it poses a dual threat, as Armstrong, in particular, can double up as a receiver. The Irish have scored 20 rushing touchdowns this season, while Williams is averaging 128 yards per game since returning to the field. The running backs have proven themselves hard to stop so far this year.

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

Irish Offensive Coaching

Chip Long continues to roll along with Ian Book and the plethora of offensive weapons he can surround the junior quarterback with. The return of Armstrong gives Long another wrinkle to the offense, as the sophomore running back can both handle lone running back duties in the backfield but can also split out wide and be a matchup issue. Look for Long to try to match him up against Northwestern’s linebackers and try to exploit an advantage there. Defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz has built up a rather stout Northwestern defense that ranks 50th nationally in total defense this season, but Long and Notre Dame’s 35th-ranked total offense should hold a slight advantage.

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

Irish Offensive Special Teams

It’s no secret that special teams has been the thorn in the side of this Irish team, but Brian Polian’s unit showed some improvement last weekend against Navy and that momentum should carry them into this weekend. Special teams doesn’t have to be spectacular, it just can’t be detrimental, and that finally seems to be settling in for the Irish. Despite the missed extra point early in the game, sophomore kicker Jonathan Doerer recovered to convert the next five attempts, while also completing his 30-yard field goal attempt, in his first game appearing at kicker. The biggest star to emerge on offensive special teams was sophomore wide receiver Michael Young, who was finally able to produce some yards as the starting kickoff return man.

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

Wildcats Passing

Northwestern has proven it can make some noise on the passing front. They may not have the most explosive offense in the air in the nation, but they certainly have weapons. At quarterback, senior Clayton Thorson, standing at 6’5 and weighing in at 226 lbs., ranks ninth in the nation in completions per game, and senior wide receiver Flynn Nagel ranks 23rd in the nation in receiving yards. Still, the Wildcats’ offense has only put up 35 points or more in one game this season, which was against Akron, whose defense ranks 52nd and hails from the MAC. Notre Dame’s defense has proven time and time again this year that it could shut down some of the best offenses in the nation, through the air and on the ground, and there’s no reason why they can’t do it again against Northwestern. Northwestern could certainly surprise and put up a big number if it catches the Irish off guard, but there’s simply no reason to give the Wildcats the edge here.

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

Wildcats Rushing

While Northwestern certainly boasts some weapons in the passing game, Pat Fitzgerald’s team doesn’t do much on the ground. The Wildcats only average 91.1 yards rushing per game, good for 127th in the nation, and while the duties are split primarily between Jeremy Larkin and Isaiah Bowser, neither has done much to impress eight games in. Notre Dame, on the other hand, has an experienced front seven that has done a good job stopping the run this year, and is coming off perhaps its toughest test in the run-heavy Navy offense. While the Irish could be unprepared and come out with the foot off the gas, the Wildcats’ offensive line has its work cut out for it to handle Clark Lea’s unit up front.

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

Wildcats Offensive Coaching

Mick McCall is in his 10th season as the offensive coordinator at Northwestern, and whatever he’s been serving up lately seems to be working. The Wildcats are averaging 25.13 points per game and have been able to pull out wins late in game over some top teams. However, McCall’s offense is going up against Clark Lea’s defense this week. And Clark Lea’s defense is a force. The defensive line is one of the deepest in the country and the secondary boasts some of the country’s top cornerbacks, particularly in Julian Love. Lea’s defense has been stingy this year, only giving up an average just over 19 points per game.

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

Wildcats Offensive Special Teams

Notre Dame’s special teams defense hasn’t been great this season, having given up two kickoff returns for touchdowns thus far. Northwestern ranks 47th in kickoff returns and 112th in punt returns, but it seems like any team could break one against the Irish. However, Northwestern sophomore kicker Charlie Kuhbander is just 3 for 6 this season on field goals. With uncertain weather in the Windy City that could affect all areas of special teams, consider this an area of the field that could swing either way.

EDGE: Even

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