Northwestern's full potential finally showed itself in South Bend Saturday. With the exception of a couple big miscues, the Wildcats played an incredible game, and it is reflected in this week's big numbers:
Each team turned the ball over four times on Saturday. Northwestern had two interceptions and two lost fumbles. The interceptions were a pair of bad decisions for Trevor Siemian in an otherwise fantastic game for the senior play caller. One of the picks came on a mind-boggling play-call when Siemian was rolled out left on 3rd-and-2 at the Notre Dame 5 late in the second quarter. The interception hurt, but luckily for NU, they made the most of the turnovers they forced. Justin Jackson turned Anthony Walker's early interception into six, the team recovered three of the four fumbles they forced on the way to victory.
Northwestern's final forced turnover came right after Pat Fitzgerald used his final timeout with 1:36 remaining in regulation. At that point, the Irish had 2nd-and-8 at the NU 31. With the 'Cats out of timeouts, Brian Kelly had the opportunity to take a knee twice and run the clock down to about 5-10 seconds, all but sealing victory. Instead, Kelly elected to run right. Ibraheim Campbell forced a fumble, Jimmy Hall recovered and Trevor Siemian led the 'Cats down to the ND 28, where Jack Mitchell tied the game with a 45-yard field goal. A lot of fans were blaming Kelly for his decision to go for two earlier in the 4th quarter, but his real blunder was not running the clock out.
31, 46, 45, 41
The man who so many had doubted came through in the clutch for Northwestern. Jack Mitchell knocked through field goals of 31, 46, 45 and 41 yards, respectively, in the second half and overtime. He tied the game with 19 seconds left and then won it in OT with a 41-yard boot that silenced South Bend. And this was the walk-on sophomore who hadn't hit a field goal longer than 29 yards. Jack Mitchell was the definition of clutch against Notre Dame and the hero in a game that won't be forgotten anytime soon.
The scoreboard in Notre Dame Stadium doesn't show much, but it did display the real stat of the game, 43. Northwestern put up 43 points, 40 in regulation, and posted 547 yards of offense. The 43 points were just 7 shy of the 50 points NU totaled during the four-game losing streak they just snapped, and it was the first time the 'Cats posted more than 29 points this season. If not for a handful of drops, Trevor Siemian would have completed about 75 percent of his passes and thrown for around 350-400 yards. Siemian laid everything on the line too, using his legs and his arm to lead three scoring drives in the 4th quarter. Justin Jackson bounced back from an off game with 149 yards rushing on 6.5 yards per carry. Kyle Prater nabbed 10 receptions, including a spectacular touchdown and a bunch of receptions on the game-tying drive.
The offense finally played to their full potential, and the stats were impressive. But if "stats are for losers" has ever been true, it was this week. While the 'Cats had some big miscues, there weren't any extremely glaring issues. The numbers on the scoreboard told the story, and the victory was exactly what Northwestern needed to finish the season strong.