FOOTBALL

WR Chase Claypool breaks out in Notre Dame's win at Northwestern

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

EVANSTON, Ill. — Brian Kelly has been measured with his praise for Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool.

The Irish head coach has emphasized the need for growth from the 6-foot-4, 227-pound junior. If Claypool’s performance in Notre Dame’s 31-21 victory at Northwestern was a sign of progress, opposing defenses should take notice.

“It was really big,” Kelly said. “He has really ascended this year. I want to be careful with the way I put it in the sense that his maturity has allowed that growth in everything that he’s done — his work ethic, the way he practices.

“Anybody that’s been around the game all knows that the great players are great practice players. The way he practices now carries over to the way he plays. It’s great to see him have that kind of success, and it’s showing itself in his maturity and the way he practices.”

Claypool must have had some great practices before Saturday night. He left Ryan Field with eight catches for 130 yards, both team highs. No other Irish receiver had more than five catches or 60 receiving yards.

Most of Claypool’s damage came in the second half as AP No. 3/CFP No. 4 Notre Dame’s offense found another gear after being deadlocked in a 7-7 tie at halftime.

“We definitely wanted to put the ball out on the perimeter to our playmakers,” said quarterback Ian Book. “We also wanted to take some shots. We were able to hit some of those and definitely help spring our offense.”

Claypool made six catches for 95 yards in the second half for the Irish (9-0). Quick throws to Claypool allowed him to pick up extra yardage after the catch.

Finding ways to pick up those yards has been emphasized in practice, Claypool said. Trying to tackle Claypool can’t be too fun for defensive backs.

“He’s so big and so fast, so when you get him the ball — that’s my job — get him the ball as soon as I can,” Book said. “We know that he’s going to make plays for us. Obviously, you saw tonight that he can shed some tackles.”

Playing physically shouldn’t be a surprise from Claypool. He’s one of Notre Dame’s best players covering punts and kickoffs with five solo tackles, and doesn’t shy away from many blocks on offense.

Claypool likes to apply that physicality at wide receiver.

“It gives me an edge if I can go attack the guy one play and then slip by him and catch a ball the next,” Claypool said. “It makes it hard for the defender. Whatever I can do to try to give me the advantage, I’ll do it.”

A poor throw by Book even forced Claypool to use his physicality to break up a near interception. Defensive end Joe Graziano dropped into coverage and Book’s pass went right to him. Fortunately, Claypool was close enough to prevent a turnover.

“It happened pretty quick, but I knew the situation,” Claypool said. “It was a good play by (Graziano). I just had to make sure he didn’t complete it.”

The performance against Northwestern (5-4) gave Claypool his best production since catching nine passes for 180 yards and one touchdown against Wake Forest on Nov. 4 of last season. The product of Abbotsford, British Columbia has played well when the weather takes a turn for the worse.

Rain came in the second half Saturday. So did the scoring for Notre Dame.

“We know we came out kind of slow and that we had the opportunities,” Claypool said. “We just had to capitalize on them. It’s all about what we do during the week and finishing. We always talk about the second half and being a second half team and making sure we don’t dip down. I think that’s kind of where it started from.”

Claypool sounded like a player echoing what he’s being coached during the week. That’s another reflection of his growth as a player.

Knowing when a big game could be coming is too.

“The game plan definitely set me up for that,” Claypool said. “I didn’t know it was going be that many opportunities to make those plays. Going into the game, you always want to feel like you’re going to play a big role in the game.”

Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool (83) tries to get past Northwestern’s Nate Hall (32) during the Notre Dame-Northwestern NCAA football game Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois.