Wildcats’ defense falters as Book shines in second half of Notre Dame victory


David Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book fires a pass. Book rolled over the Northwestern secondary in the second half of Saturday's win over the Wildcats.

Ella Brockway, Reporter


For 30 minutes, the Northwestern defense appeared to contain Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book. After all, Book is one of the nation’s top signal callers, and he had entered the game with the country’s best overall completion rate at 76.5 percent.

Then came the third quarter.

Book found his rhythm, threw for two touchdowns and 195 passing yards across just 15 minutes, and injuries piled up in the Wildcats’ secondary, dooming their attempts at an upset win as the No. 4 Fighting Irish (9-0) won 31-21 at Ryan Field on Saturday night.

“Our defense gave us so many opportunities to win, giving us short fields, giving the ball back,” senior guard Tommy Doles said. “The whole team fought and is ready to learn the lessons and move on.”

Senior safety Jared McGee and junior cornerback Trae Williams left the game with injuries in the third quarter, leaving the NU (5-4, 5-1 Big Ten) secondary understaffed just as Book settled into his stride.

Book’s first touchdown pass of the night came on a 20-yard pass to Miles Boykin on third down from NU’s 20-yard line and gave Notre Dame a 14-7 lead four minutes into the second half. On the Fighting Irish’s next drive, Book threw two passes to receiver Chase Claypool for 31 and 14 yards.

On the next play, the sophomore found the streaking Michael Young, who beat sophomore safeties J.R. Pace and Travis Whillock, in the end zone for a 47-yard score to put Notre Dame up 21-7.

“They ran two verticals, and we just didn’t get over the top and (they) stretched it on us,” Whillock said. “We’ll go back and watch the film, we’ll clean up things that we need to clean up and just get back to work.”

NU flirted with a comeback in the fourth quarter, capitalizing on a blocked Notre Dame punt and scoring two touchdowns to cut the Fighting Irish’s lead to just three, but Book scored on a 23-yard quarterback keeper that put the game away, and potentially saved Notre Dame’s chances at making the College Football Playoff.

Despite his lowest completion percentage of the season — he finished with 22 completions on 34 attempts — Book’s 343 passing yards were his most of the 2018 campaign, and nine of his completions were good for more than 15 yards, the most the NU secondary has allowed in a game this season.

The Cats had their chances to stop his flow in the second half — a pair of near-interceptions by defensive ends Joe Gaziano and Earnest Brown in the third quarter could have turned NU’s defensive tides — but fell short.

“If Notre Dame was in a conference, Ian would be an All-whatever conference type of player,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said after the loss. “Those are the types of plays when you’ve got opportunity, you’ve got to capitalize, and we weren’t able to do that.”

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