Ian Book threw for threw two touchdown passes and ran 23 yards for a score in the closing minutes to lead No. 3 Notre Dame to a 31-21 victory over Northwestern on Saturday night.

The Fighting Irish (9-0, No. 4 CFP) remained in line for a playoff spot and continued to build on their best start since the 2012 team went undefeated before losing to Alabama in the BCS championship game. The Wildcats (5-4) had won four in a row to grab the Big Ten West lead and they stayed in this one when it looked like Notre Dame was ready to pull away.

Book threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Miles Boykin in the corner of the end zone and a 47-yarder to Michael Young in the third to give the Irish a 21-7 lead. He sealed it in the closing minutes when he turned up the left side for that 23-yard run.

But things sure got close prior to that run.

Northwestern's Clayton Thorson makes a pass against Notre Dame during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in Evanston, Ill. (AP Photo/Jim Young)
Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson makes a pass against Notre Dame during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in Evanston, Ill. (AP Photo/Jim Young)

It was 24-7 early in the fourth when Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson threw a 27-yard touchdown to Riley Lees. Cameron Ruiz then blocked a punt by Tyler Newsome, giving the Wildcats possession on the Notre Dame 17. That led to a 1-yard sneak by Thorson, cutting it to 24-21 with 7:05 left.

Book improved to 6-0 as the starter, going 22 of 34 for 343 yards. Chase Claypool had eight receptions for 130 yards, and Dexter Williams ran for a 1-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

Northwestern is 0-3 in nonconference games. The Wildcats haven’t beaten a top-five opponent since 1959, when Ara Parseghian was their coach.

Thorson was 16 of 29 for 141 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for two TDs. Isaiah Bowser added 93 yards rushing on 23 attempts after back-to-back 100-yard games.

Notre Dame's Ian Book passes against Northwestern during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in Evanston, Ill. (AP Photo/Jim Young)
Notre Dame’s Ian Book passes against Northwestern during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in Evanston, Ill. (AP Photo/Jim Young)

Both teams missed some big scoring opportunities in the first half. The Irish were also hurt by penalties.

Northwestern blew a big chance after linebacker Blake Gallagher recovered a fumble by Book on the game’s opening possession. The Wildcats took over at the Notre Dame 35, only to come away empty-handed when Charlie Kuhbander missed a 39-yard field goal wide right.

The Irish then went 79 yards, with Williams plowing in from the 1 to give them a 7-0 lead and delight the fans in blue and gold. But they also missed a big chance late in the quarter. Two penalties helped drive them back from the Northwestern 5 to the 27 before Justin Yoon’s 44-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.

Northwestern tied it midway through the second quarter when Thorson scored from the 1. Bennett Skowronek kept the drive going with a one-handed grab on fourth-and-5 at the Notre Dame 21, and the Irish’s Jalen Elliott got flagged for interference breaking up a pass intended for Cameron Green in the end zone.

Northwestern's coach Pat Fitzgerald, left, speaks with Notre Dame's coach Brian Kelly before the start of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in Evanston, Ill. (AP Photo/Jim Young)
Northwestern’s coach Pat Fitzgerald, left, speaks with Notre Dame’s coach Brian Kelly before the start of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in Evanston, Ill. (AP Photo/Jim Young)

THE TAKEAWAY

Notre Dame: The Irish remained in the playoff hunt even though this wasn’t an easy game.

Northwestern: The Wildcats hung with one of the nation’s best teams, only to come up short. The loss doesn’t impact the division standings.

UP NEXT

Northwestern's James Prather, left, breaks away from a tackle by Notre Dame's Julian Love during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in Evanston, Ill. (AP Photo/Jim Young)
Northwestern’s James Prather, left, breaks away from a tackle by Notre Dame’s Julian Love during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in Evanston, Ill. (AP Photo/Jim Young)

Notre Dame: Hosts Florida State on Nov. 10.

Northwestern: Visits Iowa on Nov. 10.

___

Source: The Associated Press

Sign up to receive our latest news!

By submitting this form, I agree to the terms.