CAMPUS CHECK IN: Jeremy Larkin answers many questions early at Northwestern
EVANSTON – As many focused on the question of who would play quarterback in the opener against Purdue, one concern on offense was answered in the affirmative with the Wildcats.
Jeremy Larkin, who took over for Northwestern’s All-Time leading rusher Justin Jackson, made the most of his start in the opener in West Lafayette. He scored a pair of touchdowns, rushed for 143 yards and averaging 5.5 yards per carry, and gave some confidence to those wondering how Northwestern would address their running game.
A combination of production and memorable plays from the sophomore have some wondering what he’ll have next in the Wildcats’ second game against Duke Saturday at 11 AM at Ryan Field, the team’s first home game of the season.
“When you’re kinda playing and you’re kinda going through those types of plays, it’s just instincts, you’re not really thinking too much about it,” said Larkin of memorable plays. “I know, but I’m not really worrying much about it, I’m moving onto the next play.”
Such a performance might not have been a terrible surprise to Northwestern fans, since Larkin averaged five yard a carry in 2017 as a backup to Jackson. But after a breakout performance, fans learned another fact about the running back: He’s got pigeon toes and feet.
The topic came up when it was revealed that some of Larkin’s teammates have nicknamed him “pigeon.”
“I think it’s gotten worse over the years, because in the way I’ll stand sometimes, when my feet crossed, kinda just bent my feet in more and more,” said Larkin, who actually showed off the pigeon feet and toes to reporters at the end of the news conference. “Honestly I think it helps me a little bit, just running and making cuts. I think it gives me a little advantage to go side-to-side and more laterally.”
ILLINOIS: One Memorable Player on Defense
CHAMPAIGN – It was supposed to be a game where fans would some figurative fresh air in a likely decisive victory to start out the third season of the Lovie Smith era.
Instead Illinois fans would be catching their breath before the opener was done.
Kent State jumped out to a 17-3 halftime lead and only a strong rallied allowed the Illini to escape a potentially embarrassing loss and win 31-24. It was a particularly tough day for the defense, which allowed 453 total yards and was struggling to contain the Golden Flashes for a significant part of the afternoon.
Part of that was due to a few late suspensions for the contest, which included sophomore safety Bennett Williams, cornerback Nate Hobbs, and defensive tackle Deon Pate, which forced a few backups to start the contest.
“Defensively some of the big plays that happened, some of our younger players were involved, and they won’t make those same mistakes again,” said Smith of the defense in the opener. “Some disappointing things defensively, also. We had a lot of third and long, and they converted. Supposed to get off the field in those, and we will in the future. But saying those things, we’re 1-0, and looking forward to playing another football game of course this week here in our stadium.”
That’s against Western Illinois, another game which Illinois will be favored to win. Yet even after the defensive concerns in the opener, the Illini will trot out a Big Ten award winner on Saturday.
Linebacker Jake Hansen was named the co-Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after a steller performance against Kent State. He registered 15 total tackles, with ten of those being solo stops, while also tying a team record with six tackles for loss.
“Jake is a good football player, and we expect him to play well each week. He fits the profile of what we’d like to see in our linebackers,” said Smith of Hansen. “Student of the game, works hard… and he can make plays. I know he had a lot of statistics that kind of stand out, but we expected him to play well.”
NOTRE DAME: It’s Not Quite The Maize and Blue
SOUTH BEND – Each opening week has teams that start with positive and negative surprises. Count Brian Kelly’s team in the former category.
Notre Dame jumped out to a 21-3 lead on 14th-ranked Michigan and didn’t look back in a 24-17 win at home in a night game that left a strong impression on those around the country that tuned in for a national night game broadcast.
The Irish moved up from 12th to 8th in the polls and have solidified some of their fan’s preseason hopes that they might be a contender for the school’s first College Football Playoff berth and first national championship in 30 years.
All of that came from a big time win over the Wolverines, which leaves the potential of a letdown in Week 2 in a game with a considerably less amount of hype. Notre Dame will host Ball State at 2:30 PM at Notre Dame Stadium, entering as a heavy favorite against the Mid-American Conference school.
It’s not the historic rivalry of Michigan or even a team from a major conference, yet Kelly has faith that his veteran group can prevent a bad follow-up to a solid opener.
It shouldn’t. You know, we’ve got a mature group of players that recognize that it’s really about our preparation,” said Kelly. “It’s not about Michigan’s preparation or Vanderbilt or Ball State or Virginia Tech or any other teams that we play. It’s really about what we do, and if we prepare, and through our total preparation — they’ve heard this now for the last couple years.
“If they stick to their process and their preparation, it really doesn’t matter the team that we’re playing.”
NORTHERN ILLINOIS: The Tough Road Continues at Home
DEKALB – It’s still a few weeks until Rod Carey’s team gets a shot at a MAC opponent. This week, it’s another major school from a major conference, but this time it’s on the Huskies’ home turf.
Northern Illinois hosts Pac 12 opponent Utah on Saturday evening at 6:30 PM just a week after facing Big Ten opponent Iowa at Kinnick Stadium.
The Hawkeyes would have no letdown against the traditionally competitive Huskies, who knocked off Nebraska in the non-conference season in 2017. Iowa dominated from start to finish in a 33-7 win that dropped Carey’s team to 0-1 on the season.
Utah enters the game at 1-0 after a win over Weber State to start their season.