4:15pm ET | ESPN
We picked this game for our matchup because in a weekend full of more nationally publicized games like Penn State at Michigan and Alabama at LSU but this one between undefeated No. 3 Notre Dame and underrated Northwestern shouldn’t be overlooked. Pat Fitzgerald’s gritty Wildcats have already pulled off a pair of upset wins over ranked Big Ten teams at Ryan Field this season (versus Michigan State and Wisconsin) so we expect this game to be close
Brian Kelly’s undefeated team is loaded with future NFL talent on the defensive side of the ball with potential Senior Bowlers like defensive lineman Jerry Tillery and linebackers Drue Tranquill and Te’von Coney but one player to keep an eye on when the Irish have the ball is tight end Alize Mack.
Mack came to South Bend out of powerhouse Bishop Gorman HS in Las Vegas and after three years of very limited production he is finally starting to show why he was the consensus No. 1 rated TE in the country out of high school. After having only 32 catches his first three years, Mack is currently tied for third on the team with 27 receptions (for 250 yards) and the Irish offensive staff deserves credit for getting the tight end involved in the passing game than the vast majority of college coaches do these days.
Similar to his counterpart in the matchup, it also took time for Northwestern outside linebacker Nate Hall to truly get rolling in Evanston. Coming off a pair of inconsistent seasons his first two years, Hall finally broke out as a junior with 16.5 TFL, which was good for second-most in the Big Ten a year ago. Unfortunately, Hall suffered a major setback during bowl prep last December when he sustained a torn ACL, however, the NFL scouts we have spoken with say he has bounced back well and shows no noticeable affects from the injury.
When you are watching this ESPN-aired game, focus on the pass game aspect of this matchup. One area where Mack will pose a mismatch problem for Hall is in sheer size. Based off the listed measurables, Mack (6-5) has roughly a three-inch advantage over Hall (6-2) and the size factor will critical down the middle of the field. Hall has enough straight-line speed to carry seam routes but Mack’s ability to extend and make contested catches make him a difficult assignment for any average-sized linebacker in man coverage.
From strictly a tools perspective, Mack is very intriguing to scouts because it is hard to find big-bodied pass catchers with his blend of size and athleticism. While he is more fluid and controlled than explosive or dynamic, Mack has everything required to be a good route runner at the tight end position—he has good feet and he can drop his weight at the top of routes.
We expect Northwestern to play mostly zone concepts on Saturday
-- Jim Nagy, Reese's Senior Bowl Executive Director