Here’s our weekly stock report following NU’s 31-21 defeat at the hands of No. 4 Notre Dame.
The freshman rose to the occasion for the third week in a row. Bowser tallied 93 yards against a top-15 rushing defense, including explosive carries of 14 and 20 yards. His trademark power running style carried over against a fearsome Notre Dame front seven; Bowser carried Jerry Tillery (6-foot-6, 305 pounds) five yards downfield on one carry. If anything, Bowser is consistent, which is all NU can ask for from its running backs at this point in the season.
Ruiz wasn’t perfect in pass coverage, but his blocked punt kept Northwestern in the game. Without the block, this game would’ve been over a lot earlier.
Okay, Notre Dame’s quarterback was really, really good today. On a day where Notre Dame couldn’t get much going on the ground, Book was 22-of-34 for 343 yards and two touchdowns. The redshirt sophomore looked fantastic in the third quarter, throwing for 195 yards and torching the Wildcat defense for chunk play after chunk play. Book also had the game-clinching touchdown, a 23-yard designed run late in the fourth quarter.
Honorable mentions: Team discipline, Jake Collins
Clayton Thorson and the NU passing game
For the third consecutive game, Thorson looked out of sorts. Turnovers didn’t afflict No. 18 like they did last week, but Thorson could find no rhythm at all on Saturday, never completing more than three passes in a row. Save for a 27-yard touchdown pass to Riley Lees, the Wildcats couldn’t get anything going through the air after their first drive. Thorson only managed 4.86 yards per attempt. He missed several open receivers, including a key misfire toward an open Cam Green as NU neared midfield in the third quarter. Thorson looked uncomfortable in the pocket as Notre Dame got good pushes on plenty of NU dropbacks. Put simply, Northwestern needed elite Clayton Thorson to win tonight, and he didn’t show up.
Limiting the big play
Ian Book had all day to throw, and Notre Dame’s receivers ran free through NU’s secondary all night. The Wildcats — who were without safety Jared McGee for most of the second half — had some nice plays on the ball early in the game, but Book kept taking shots downfield and the Fighting Irish ended up with 11 chunk plays through the air.
“Lots of self-inflicted wounds tonight,” Fitz said after the game. “Second half, I think our guys pressed a little bit, especially defensively. There were some plays we gave up tonight that should not have happened.”
A 20-yard touchdown gave Notre Dame the lead. Then, Notre Dame went 98 yards to take a 21-7 lead on the strength of a 31-yard completion to a wide-open Charles Claypool and a 47-yard touchdown to an even more wide-open Michael Young. Book was 15-of-19 for 236 yards and two scores in the second half. He also rushed for 56 yards, including the game-sealing touchdown.
An impact defensive play
Few would argue that the Wildcats are more talented than the Fighting Irish. So to win Saturday’s game, NU was going to have to make impact plays at the right times. In a game dominated by long drives, where time of possession was crucial, NU couldn’t get Notre Dame off the field when it mattered most. The Wildcats turned Notre Dame over on the first drive of the game, but couldn’t capitalize on a couple bad Book throws to turn the Fighting Irish over. On three huge fourth and shorts, NU couldn’t stop Notre Dame. The Wildcats couldn’t make Ian Book’s life hard at all. And then, when NU pulled within three points thanks to big plays from Riley Lees and Cam Ruiz, the NU defense didn’t give the offense the last chance it needed. Notre Dame went 89 yards in 4 minutes and 14 seconds. culminating in a 23-yard touchdown run by Book to push their advantage to 31-21.
Honorable mentions: Punt coverage, Charlie Kuhbander, pass rush, pass protection, bragging rights