It was over when...Irish kicker Kyle Brindza missed wide on a 42-yard field goal in the first possession of overtime, opening the door for a Northwestern upset. Wildcats kicker Jack Mitchell capitalized, booting a game-winning 41-yarder for the stunning comeback victory. Mitchell previously nailed a 45-yarder to send the game into overtime near the end of regulation.
Notre Dame led 40-29 with 10:34 remaining in the contest.
Offensive MVP -- Will FullerCemented his place among the nation's top targets catching nine passes for 159 yards and three touchdowns, all career bests. Fuller's first two trips to pay dirt came on 23-yard scores, the first a bubble screen-turned sprint down the right sideline to give the Irish a 27-23 lead late in the second half, the second a corner route touchdown catch that extended Notre Dame's lead to 34-26 late in the third quarter.
Fuller added his third touchdown two drives later, securing a slant route on 3rd-and-8 to provide a 40-29 lead with 10:34 remaining. The 40th point was Notre Dame's last as the Irish inexplicably chose to attempt a two-point conversion in an effort to lead by 13 rather than kick the extra point to go ahead by 12, ensuring a touchdown, conversion, and field goal could not tie the score.
Less than two weeks ago, Irish head coach Brian Kelly was critical of his best offensive player's practice habits. In two games since, Fuller has notched 15 catches for 254 yards and four scores.
"I wanted him to be the guy that makes the big play," said Kelly. "He obviously made a huge catch in the end zone when we were kind of mucking it around, we needed somebody to step up and make a big play. He went up in traffic and made a huge play for us.
"I wanted him to practice better, which he did, and take his craft to the next level and I think he's done that."
Offensive Game Balls-- Tarean Folston: The sophomore runner finished with 106 rushing yards on 20 carries including a six-yard touchdown courtesy a pretty spin move to evade a tackle attempt at scrimmage. Folston's longest gain of the day was just 13 yards but he consistently kept the Irish ahead of the chains with gains of 12, 11, 11, 13, 8, and a quartet of 5-6 yards.
Folston was removed from the contest in favor of senior Cam McDaniel on Notre Dame's final possession of overtime. McDaniel fumbled, giving Northwestern new life and the Wildcats responded with a game-tying field goal drive to end regulation.
Asked if he "wants the ball" in the last two minutes of a game, Folston offered, "I mean, I wouldn't mind having it. That's not my position to tell Coach (Kelly) what I want to do. I just go with whatever he tells me to do."
"It was just a regular play to me. I was rooting for my teammate."
McDaniel hadn't carried the ball since inside the six-minute mark of the third quarter when he fumbled with 1:28 remaining.
-- Everett Golson: Miscues continued to plague his overall efforts as Golson was the victim of a bad luck bounce interception in the first quarter (hit as he threw with the pass subsequently deflecting of right tackle Christian Lombard's helmet prior to landing in enemy hands) and a fumbled exchange in the third quarter, the latter with the Irish staked to a 1st-and-goal at the Northwestern 5-yard line. The senior triggerman though passed for 287 yards with three touchdowns -- all to Fuller -- and rushed for a net of 78 yards including a 61-yard touchdown run to open the game's scoring just four plays into the contest.
Defensive MVP -- Isaac RochellThe sophomore defensive end bounced back from a rough outing in the desert to register nine tackles including two for lost yardage with a sack and a pair of passes defended. Of Rochell's seven stops that weren't for loss, five limited Wildcats runners for gains of 0, 1, or 2 yards..
Defensive Game Balls -- Rochell's classmate Cole Luke picked off his fourth pass of the season, forced a fumbled, and recorded a tackle-for-loss among his seven tackles. Luke's interception set the Irish offense up with first down at the Northwestern 13-yard line with Fuller punching in his third score of the day three snaps later.
Luke prefaced his play Saturday with the following comments Wednesday after an Irish practice.
"You have to study enough film to know what's actually going to come your way during the game," he said. "Coach (Brian) VanGorder talks about that magical moment. You can always be in the vicinity of the pass, but you have to have that grind for the magical moment to make a play on the ball and I feel like I've been doing it really well."
-- Playing for the first time after a dislocating his shoulder on Oct. 4, 5th-year senior safety Austin Collinsworth scored the first touchdown of his Irish career, scooping up a fumble caused by fellow graduate student Cody Riggs -- back after missing last week with a foot injury -- for a 32-yard score. .
A dejected Collinsworth was pressed for his feelings on the scoop-and-score post-game, one announced as his first play back to the media. "Second play back. It's a better story if it's the first play, I can lie to you," he joked. "When I first saw the ball on the ground, I was like, 'Thanks God.' It was a gift. I picked it up, got a lot of great blocks along the way. It was a great moment in an otherwise bad day."
-- Senior Matthias Farley added to his list of season heroics, picking off an out route in the Irish end zone to negate a Northwestern scoring threat at the end of the first half.
-- Sophomore Jaylon Smith tied for the team lead with 10 tackles, adding a forced fumble and quarterback hurry.
Special Teams MVP -- NoneNotre Dame's special teams were an unmitigated disaster Saturday, a reality punctuated by the following comment by Kelly on his erroneous decision to forgo an extra point and go for a two-point conversion with an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter.
"Our chart (two-point play or PAT) tells us in that situation to go for 1 but we were up, I think 11, at the time and we felt like given the circumstances, our kicking game situation, that we were gong to try to extend it with a 2-point play," he said.
Notre Dame had its second PAT attempt blocked and returned for two points by the Wildcats midway through the first quarter. New holder Malik Zaire bobbled the snap, disrupting the timing to aid the blocked kick. Kicker Kyle Brindza hit four of five extra points on the day including three following the aforementioned block.
As noted previously, Brindza later missed a crucial 42-yard attempt in overtime to open the door for a Northwestern upset win.
The usually clutch and reliable senior struggled punting as well, hitting four for an average of just 35 yards, that after averaging 41 yards per punt over each of the last four contests and seven of nine entering Saturday afternoon.