There’s a lot of reasons to like the Wildcats on Saturday.
Clayton Thorson is the real deal, and there’s a reason Northwestern sits at 5-1 in the Big Ten with quality wins over Wisconsin and Michigan State, and a near-miss against Michigan. Plus, there’s a lot of signs that point to a chance that the Irish are napping on Saturday. Coming off a long road trip, a battle with the Navy triple option that comes with a hard reset and some knocks to key players, Notre Dame has its work cut out for it.
This game will come down to which quarterback makes less mistakes. And while Thorton has played well this year, the Irish defense, particularly up front, should cause real issues. With the way Ian Book has been efficiently running the offense, I can’t see Brian Kelly walking away with a loss in this one.
FINAL: Notre Dame 42, Northwestern 24
Elizabeth Greason — Assistant Managing Editor
I’m torn this week. On the one hand, Northwestern has been hot lately and has been able to take down Notre Dame in the two teams’ last matches. On the other hand, I’ve got faith in the Irish, both founded and unfounded.
The Irish pass rush was relatively stagnant last week against Navy, and while that was an abnormal situation with the triple option in place, the pass rush that was on display the previous game — with Julian Okwara’s seven quarterback hurries — is what Notre Dame will need more of this week in order to be successful. Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson is a weapon, given time, but if the Irish defensive line does its job, he will be forced to make mistakes.
Offensively, Notre Dame looked better than ever last week. The duo of Jafar Armstrong and Dexter Williams will continue to be on full display this week and I think it will only continue to evolve and get more explosive. The real question will be whether Ian Book will be able to continue to handle the pressure, and I think he will do so well, especially considering this road game might end up looking more like an ND home game considering the Notre Dame presence in Chicago.
FINAL: Notre Dame 34, Northwestern 27
Joe Everett — Sports Editor
It’s November, and historically that means Notre Dame is vulnerable. Northwestern is a really good team. The Wildcats were up 17-0 when Michigan visited Ryan Field a couple weeks back, only to see the lead eventually slip away in an eventual 20-17 loss to the Wolverines. They lead in the Big Ten West and have surprisingly beaten up conference competition thus far, including Wisconsin last week. It’ll likely be a night game on the road for the Irish, and the Wildcats have a history of upsetting the Irish.
However, I believe in this Notre Dame team, and I’ll have a tough time picking against them as long as they remain undefeated. The Irish have been preaching that they’ve been focused on Northwestern all week, and I think they give the upmost respect to the Wildcats as an opponent. This’ll be a physical, grind-it-out game similar to Pittsburgh. I can see Northwestern jumping out to an early lead, but I think the Irish will eventually win the trenches on both sides of the ball, with the Notre Dame defensive line and rushing attack taking over late.
FINAL: Notre Dame 27, Northwestern 17
Charlotte Edmonds — Associate Sports Editor
I get all the hype and concern surrounding this game as Northwestern is at their best in years and Notre Dame is vulnerable following a bruising against Navy, but I just don’t buy it.
Northwestern has all the potential to unravel this epic run. Playing against quality conference competition, there’s no need to assume that they’ll be intimidated by the Irish. However, their momentum will only take them so far. Last week this Notre Dame team proved legitimately belong in the title race. I know, how can a win over 2-6 Navy be the x-factor in the college playoff decision? That game in San Diego featured a team, coming off an ugly win over Pittsburgh, that understood what it takes to get the job done. More importantly, they seemed to finally believe they were capable of it.
Switching up the narrative from last week against Navy’s triple option, this game’s ultimately going to come down to the offense. Five of Northwestern’s eight games have been decided by five points or less. Jafar Armstrong’s return couldn’t have been more timely and I expect Ian Book to continue to look to him as a receiving option.
After a 4th quarter interception by Jalen Elliott against Navy saved my prediction for the week, I’m feeling pretty lucky and I don’t expect that to change come Saturday.
FINAL: Notre Dame 31, Northwestern 17
Connor Mulvena — Associate Sports Editor
I’m really nervous about this game. For those of you that have kept up with our staff’s predictions, that may not come as a shock, but I’d go as far to say that this is the game I”ve been most worried about all season, even more so than Stanford or Virginia Tech.
Northwestern is a tough team, and quite frankly they’ve been overlooked by the AP and the college football playoff committee so far this season. Sitting at first in the Big Ten West, the Wildcats have beaten a good Wisconsin team, a good Michigan State team and a Purdue team that evidently has some real weapons. Plus, the Wildcats played Michigan really close — they probably should have won that game.
But what worries me the most is that you have to combine all of this with what is likely a banged up Irish team. Navy is a physically tough team and the Navy game is always physically demanding, which you have to imagine leaves some guys with at least a few bumps and bruises, if not worse. November hasn’t been the best month for the Irish in past years, and this Northwestern team doesn’t help. After a week in which we all saw the Irish ranked below a one loss LSU team by the committee, this weekend seems like a perfect storm for the season to go up in flames.
But I’ve said all of this a lot this season, and this team has proven me wrong time and time again. They must have something special, I just can’t put my finger on it. Notre Dame narrowly escapes catastrophe this weekend in Evanston.