SOUTH BEND – Even for a stadium that boasts an impressive resume of major moments, Saturday will be something special.
A contest like this hasn’t taken place in South Bend in 22 years and will play a big role in the home team’s hopes for their first national championship in 30 seasons.
No. 7 Stanford makes a visit to No. 8 Notre Dame Saturday under the lights. The match-up of undefeated teams gives the winner a nice addition to their resume for a College Football Playoff berth.
It figures to be one of the biggest contests at Notre Dame Stadium in the Brian Kelly era and a victory would give the coach a signature win in his tenure at the school.
“I hope it’s great. I hope it’s a great atmosphere. We thrive on our home field,” said Kelly of the Stanford game. “We’ve had a good run going at home. You know, to have a home game against a top-10 opponent when you’re a top-10 team, these are the moments that you wait for, and we’re certain that I think we’re going to be met with a great crowd.”
Those in the stands will be watching the first match-up of top eight teams since 1996, when No. 4 Ohio State beat the fifth-ranked Irish 29-16. It will be the 35th time that two top-ranked teams have met at Notre Dame Stadium, with hosts winning 22 of those games.
Yet the last win for Notre Dame in a match-up like Saturday came 25 years ago when the second-ranked Irish knocked off top-ranked Florida State in 1993.
Once again Ian Book, who had five total touchdowns in a win at Wake Forest this past week, will likely be the starter against the Cardinal. But Kelly says the Irish will continue to have backup Brandon Wimbush ready if needed.
“That’s the challenge is making sure that during the week of our preparation that they’re both sharp,” said Kelly of his quarterbacks. “We’ve got a lot of work to do each and every week to make sure that happens in terms of making sure that they get the right looks in the red zone and short yardage and 3rd down and long and blitz packages. It’s a lot of work during the week, but we’ll make sure both of them are ready.”
NORTHWESTERN: Moving on Without Jeremy
EVANSTON – In the worst moment of his football career, Pat Fitzgerald will always remember Jeremy Larkin at his best.
That was early this week when the running back was informed that his football career was over after a diagnosis of cervical stenosis during the bye week. Shortly after, Larkin spoke to his Northwestern teammates after learning his time on the field was over.
It left his head coach more than impressed.
“One of the most inspirational speeches I’ve heard as a young man. His attitude is inspiring and not a surprise,” said Fitzgerald of Larkin’s talk with the players. “It’s been a challenging week or so for he and his family. But the most important thing is our medical team along with Jeremy I think worked hand-in-hand and did a terrific job in identifying an issue that hopefully avoided anything down the road that could have been, quite frankly, catastrophic from an injury standpoint.
“A lot of courage to speak up that something wasn’t feeling right at the start of this.”
It ends a promising career for Larkin after just a little over a season for Northwestern. He made his debut as the backup for the program’s All-Time leading rusher Justin Jackson, scoring five touchdowns while accounting for 618 total yards.
He was well on his way to topping that number in the first three games of the season, already rushing for 346 yards while catching 19 passes for 127 yards. Larkin scored five touchdowns in those contests, which turned out to be his last in the sport.
As the running back now moves into a student assistant head coaching role, the Wildcats now must replace one of their biggest offensive rebounds for their biggest game of the season to date. Junior John Moten IV is the only running back in among the top rushers for the Wildcats, but he’s only carried 12 times for 22 yards.
“We’ve dealt with player injury issues in the past and it’s the next guy’s opportunity. We’ve recruited well at that position. The guys can’t control the opportunity they’re getting. they would never wish that upon anybody. It’s time for guys to step up and I expect them just to be their best. That’s all the expectations is. Just go out there and be your best and be you, and play to the best of your ability and I expect all of them will.”
ILLINOIS: A Week To Regroup
CHAMPAIGN – When fans looked at the 2018 schedule, most figured the Illini would be 2-2.
Kent State and Western Illinois figured to go in the win column, while South Florida and Penn State were long shots for a victory.
That scenario has played out for Lovie Smith’s team so far. The Golden Flashes gave the Illini a fight until a second half rally put Illinois on top. At Soldier Field, Illinois had the Bulls on the ropes most of the afternoon in Week 3 but couldn’t finish off a surprise win. Same with their Big Ten opener against No. 10 Penn State, where three quarters of solid football evaporated in a 35-point fourth by the Nittany Lions.
At 2-2 – where most expected them to be – the Illini spend this week on the bye as they prepare for an important October. Should Smith want to take a team to a bowl game for the first time, Illinois needs to get it done this month where they face struggling Rutgers (1-3) and Purdue (1-3) to start the month.
NORTHERN ILLINOIS: More Like Normal
DEKALB – For now, their games against teams from Power 5 conferences are over.
It ended last weekend at Florida State, where Northern Illinois stayed with the Seminoles throughout but could never threaten late in a 37-19 defeat. It was the third time in four games where the Huskies played a team from a major FBS conference and finished winless in those contests.
While a game remains with independent BYU on the road October 27th, Rod Carey’s team will be facing MAC opponents for the next three weeks and then four weeks after the contest in Provo.
Things start with Eastern Michigan this week in Ypsilanti, as the Eagles host Northern Illinois after 2-2 start which included a road victory over Big Ten opponent Purdue.
But EMU lost their MAC opener to Buffalo while the Huskies enter with a conference win they got two weeks earlier against Central Michigan at home.