No. 4 Notre Dame improved to 9-0 and moved one game closer to its first College Football Playoff appearance after outlasting Northwestern on the road in a 31-21 win. The Irish never found consistency in the running game and had multiple special teams errors that helped the underdog Wildcats hang in the game.
Notre Dame's defense did its part throughout the night, limiting Northwestern to just 244 yards of total offense at 3.6 yards per play, but the performance as a whole fell short of championship caliber.
Give credit to Northwestern for lulling Notre Dame into the low-scoring, sloppy rock fight of a football game that it needed in order to pull off the upset. Without the stellar play of that defensive front and some hard running from Isaiah Bowswer, the Irish could have put the game away before halftime. But the Irish also had a missed field goal, a kickoff out of bounds, illegal formation on a kickoff, holding on a kickoff return and a blocked punt that set up a Northwestern score to keep the Wildcats in the game.
And while Notre Dame did not show championship-caliber football for the entire contest, it did display one quality we've come to expect from the teams that are lucky enough to finish their season in the College Football Playoff: the tendency to offer a response when pushed. All three of quarterback Ian Books touchdowns came after halftime as he hit on big play scores and got it done with his feet on a late fourth quarter touchdown to put the game away.
The CFP Selection Committee will have at least one spot available for Notre Dame to move up, but nothing from Saturday night is going to spur a move above No. 1 Alabama or No. 2 Clemson.
The toughest test of Notre Dame's season might be coming up in two weeks 7-2 Syracuse in Yankee Stadium. If the Irish survive that test, like they did on Saturday night against the Wildcats, then nitpicking the wins means less. None of the nitpicking from any of the wins means anything, really, as long as Notre Dame remains undefeated.
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