Campus Check In: Surprise Temple gives Notre Dame another road test
SOUTH BEND – This statement is not uncommon in college football: Notre Dame is the subject of a spotlight game on a Saturday night.
It’s their opponent that makes Saturday’s game a bit different.
Temple, a team that left the Big East in 2004 due to poor attendance and lack of competitiveness, has raced out to a 7-0 record and have earned a No. 21 ranking before their match-up with the 9th-ranked Irish this weekend.
The game at Lincoln Financial Field is a sellout. ESPN has brought their “College Gameday” to Philadelphia for the contest-a first in Owls history. Arguably it’s the biggest game in the history of the program that has had marginal success through the years.
It’s a far cry from the team that visited South Bend for the season opener in 2013-when Notre Dame cruised to a 28-6 victory at home.
“They are much more athletic as a football team now than they were then, especially on the defensive line and certainly, in the skill positions, who they are recruiting, really changed the look of their football team,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly in the differences he’s seen in the Owls from two years ago.
Temple started the season with a victory over in-state rival Penn State at home and hasn’t looked back since. In those six-straight victories since that game against the Nittany Lions, the Owls have won four contests away from home and have a share of the American Athletic Conference lead as the calendar turns to November.
“They are a four-quarter team,” said Kelly of Temple. “As evidenced by — their numbers are astonishing in terms of the second half, points scored versus points led. I think 29 points resonates to me as the number that they have given up in the second half.”
That’s correct but so is the fact that Notre Dame has been in a few more of these games than the Owls.
National attention is nothing new to the Irish but a road environment brings its challenges. Their only loss this year came on the road at Clemson and is the reason the Irish will likely have to win out to get a spot in the National Championship Playoff.
Against an upstart Owls team hoping for a breakthrough win for the program, Kelly has given his team simple advice.
“Our kids have been prepared, played hard. But when you go on the road, you have to take care of the football. That’s the most important thing,” said Kelly. “And you’ve got to have a mind-set when you’re on the road that you’ve got to play from behind at times and you’ve got to overcome the crowd and all those things and officiating, and our guys are tough-minded about that.
“So we just talk about really taking care of your own business and if you do that, play hard for four quarters and get it to the fourth quarter, you have a chance to win.”
History says they will. Notre Dame sports at perfect 15-0 record in games played on Halloween.
NORTHWESTERN: Bowl Eligible Wildcats Get a Break
EVANSTON – The October slump happened. But this time it didn’t last as long.
A gusty 60 minutes of football in Lincoln helped to make sure this recent losing streak would stop early.
Northwestern went back-and-forth with Nebraska on Saturday and eventually emerged with a two-point victory that stopped a two-game losing streak after a 5-0 start.
By no means is this a powerful Cornhuskers’ team but a rare win at Memorial Stadium means a lot to Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats after a consecutive blowout Big Ten losses.
Now they get a chance to enjoy their bye week, which Fitzgerald did in a unique way on the eve of Halloween, as seen in this Twitter video posted to the team’s account.
ILLINOIS: After near misses, Illini hope to find those big plays
CHAMPAIGN – Bill Cubit had his team’s season take on a different life after a win over the Cornhuskers.
On October 3rd Illinois rallied to beat Nebraska at Memorial Stadium 14-13 with a last second touchdown from Wes Lunt to Geronimo Allison.
During the next two games the Illini had another chance to get into the win column in games which would be considered surprise victories. But the big plays they made to knock off Nebraska for their fourth win have been missing in trying to get their fifth.
Against Iowa the Illini fumbled on a drive in the final three minutes in which they had a chance to take the game and ended up losing to the Hawkeyes in Iowa City. After a bye Illinois saw a second half lead fade away in the final 20 minutes as Wisconsin scored the last 14 points in the game to pick up an 11-point win.
Cubit made no excuses after the game pointing out that the team simply didn’t make enough plays. His stance didn’t change 48 hours later.
“I think our players understand that every play is important. It’s a four-point game in the fourth quarter; we’re staying in the games,” said Cubit on Monday. “I don’t think we’re killing ourselves like we did before, I think our kids are playing with a lot more passion; they’re not flinching when things happen.”
To make a bowl or keep their slim hopes for a Big Ten West division title alive, they have to make things happen. The next chance comes on Saturday at Penn State where Illinois has just one win in their history but a win over the Nittany Lions at home last season.
Penn State enters the Game 6-2 having beaten Maryland on the road by a point last week. A normally upbeat Cubit isn’t asking for the world for his team-just a few more plays.
“There’s a lot of good things happening. You’ve go to take that next step; you’ve go to get some wins,” said Cubit. “Nebraska was a big step. The last two teams we’ve played, record wise, they’re the top two teams in the West and we’re right there.
“So we’ve got to just get over that a little bit better.”
NORTHERN ILLINOIS: Huskies face biggest MAC test with Toledo
DEKALB – The “mojo” might be flowing again with the Huskies after a bit of a rocky start to the Mid-American Conference season.
After a three-game losing streak that included a conference opening loss at Central Michigan, Northern Illinois has rallied back to win three-straight. That included a 49-21 blowout win over Eastern Michigan at home to improve to 5-3.
Now Rod Carey’s group get a little extra time to prepare for what might be their toughest game of the conference season. The Huskies travel to No. 20 Toledo next Tuesday night to face the Western Division leaders who are currently up a game on NIU.
Winners of their first seven games the Rockets are the class of the MAC so far this season but over the last few weeks Northern Illinois looks like they are returning to form in time for the challenge.
In their last three games the Huskies have scored at least 45 points a game as quarterback Drew Hare has found his midseason groove.
After failing to throw a touchdown in losses to Ohio State, Boston College and Central Michigan, Hare has seven scoring throws in the last three games and has done so without an interception. In those contest he’s also completed nearly 75 percent of his passes and in the win over Ball State hit on 29-of-32 passes.
Hare has 1,817 yards passing with 13 touchdowns compared to three interceptions. Joe Bouagnon has complimented his attack on the ground as he’s rushed for 862 yards and 14 scores this year. During the winning streak he’s rushed for 521 of those yards with six touchdowns.