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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern 43, No. 18 Notre Dame 40

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Jack Mitchell kicks one of his three field goals of at least 40 yards in Northwestern's 43-40 win over No. 18 Notre Dame. Mitchell's final boot, a 41-yarder, gave the Wildcats the win in overtime.

Jack Mitchell kicks one of his three field goals of at least 40 yards in Northwestern's 43-40 win over No. 18 Notre Dame. Mitchell's final boot, a 41-yarder, gave the Wildcats the win in overtime.

Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Jack Mitchell kicks one of his three field goals of at least 40 yards in Northwestern's 43-40 win over No. 18 Notre Dame. Mitchell's final boot, a 41-yarder, gave the Wildcats the win in overtime.

Joseph Diebold, Assistant Gameday Editor

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The good:

Northwestern’s offense finally looked like a real offense, in both scheme and results, in NU’s 43-40 win over Notre Dame. The Wildcats were finally able to make some big plays in both the pass and run games, and it could have been an even better day if not for several ill-timed drops by NU receivers. Justin Jackson bounced back from a tough game last week, carrying 23 times for 149 yards and a touchdown, including his longest run of the season. The offensive line had one of its best games of the year, both run- and pass-blocking.

The offense also turned in the drive it needed with less than two minutes left, going from its own 28 to the Notre Dame 28 and setting up sophomore kicker Jack Mitchell for the game-tying field goal to force overtime. Senior quarterback Trevor Siemian, who had something of a redemption game, made several nice throws on the drive to keep hope alive for the Cats.

The Cats’ defense was opportunistic against turnover-happy Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson, recovering two red zone fumbles and intercepting a Golson pass. The interception, which Anthony Walker returned to the Notre Dame 4-yard line, set up an easy scoring opportunity for the Cats, while the two fumble recoveries kept the Fighting Irish out of the end zone. A third fumble recovery gave NU the ball back late in the game with a chance to tie.

The defense stood tall in overtime, with three Notre Dame plays netting no yards. The Fighting Irish were forced into a 42-yard field goal attempt, which missed wide left.

Mitchell made three 40-yard field goals, including two that tied and won the game, after not making one longer than 30 yards all season.

The bad:

Although the offense played well at times, some mistakes in big moments hurt the Cats. Siemian was intercepted once in the end zone and had another returned to set up the Fighting Irish inside the NU red zone. Missing a third-down in Notre Dame territory in the fourth quarter and having the subsequent field goal blocked nearly cost the Cats dearly.

Defensively, the secondary was burned repeatedly by Notre Dame’s Will Fuller, who set a career high with 159 receiving yards and scored three touchdowns. On a key third-down play late in the game, Jimmy Hall committed a questionable pass interference penalty that nearly quenched any shot of an NU comeback. But the defense more than made up for its miscues, forcing another fumble that gave the Cats another shot to pull even.

What it means:

In terms of NU’s chances at bowl eligibility, the upset couldn’t have been more of a shot in the arm. The Wildcats are now back on track to get to six wins if they can take care of Purdue and Illinois. For a team that seemed a few hours ago like its best shot as a bowl game was due to its academic progress rate, that’s a big deal.

From a bigger-picture standpoint, it is a validating win for a coaching staff that has taken heat in recent weeks. It will take more to redeem the negative performances of the past few weeks, but if the offense can build on this performance in the final two — or three — games of the season, it will be a major boost heading into next season.

Last week, NU got national attention for all the wrong reasons. This week, it got it for all the right ones. Coach Pat Fitzgerald and his team should drive back to Evanston happy tonight.

Email: josephdiebold2015@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @JosephDiebold

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