SOUTH BEND – A dominating win under the lights at home over a rival – it’s hard for any team to top that moment.
Yet if Notre Dame wants has dreams of qualifying for the College Football Playoffs, they’ll have to move on from their 49-14 drubbing of USC last Saturday.
They’ll have to do so rather quickly, too.
The ninth-ranked Irish turn around this week and face No. 14 NC State in South Bend this Saturday at 2:30 PM. It comes at a time when the team is playing some of their best football in the Brian Kelly era. The Irish have won each of their last five games by at least 20 points, Brandon Wimbush has settled into the starting quarterback role, and Josh Adams has emerged as a Heisman Trophy candidate after rushing for 967 yards along with a carry average of 9.2.
The Wolfpack will test that momentum as the enter South Bend on a six-game winning streak, with their eyes on winning their first ACC title since 1979. But it’s not USC – Notre Dame’s rival dating back to the days of Knute Rockne.
Yet Kelly expects no loss of focus for his team as they continue a difficult final stretch that includes two more ranked opponents after Saturday’s game with NC State.
“Within that narrative is really the answers to all the questions that most people have. How do you get your team ready for the next week after a big victory? That is, they know how they got to where they are. They certainly want to continue to be in this position,” said Kelly. “From that perspective, our football team knows what they need to do to continue to be successful.
“Now it’s my job and our staff’s job to continue to see that preparation and that mindset, you know, continues to evolve and develop on a day-to-day basis.”
NORTHWESTERN: A Little More Offense Would Help
EVANSTON – By no means has Northwestern had a bad offensive season. After all, running back Justin Jackson just broke the Wildcats’ All-Time record for rushing yardage two weeks ago and is on his way to another 1,000 yard season.
Yet last week against Iowa, it was the defense that saved Pat Fitzgerald’s team in an overtime contest against Iowa at Ryan Field. Northwestern’s defense allowed just three points in the second half and gave the team a shot to pull out the 17-10 win over the Hawkeyes.
It brings the Wildcats back over the .500 mark at 4-3, but that will be tested when 16th-ranked Michigan State rolls into town on Saturday afternoon at 2:30 PM. After a down season in 2016, the Spartans are back to their old serves with a 6-1 record, including a 4-0 mark in the Big Ten.
Like with past Mark D’Antonio teams, defense has been the key for Michigan State. They’ve allowed 16.9 points per game – ranked 13th in FCS – and have allowed 10-or-less points in three-of-their-four Big Ten games. Another lackluster effort won’t cut it for the Wildcats.
“It is going to be another tall task for us. Offensively, we are going to come out and try to get out to a better start than we did last week,” said receiver Macon Wilson, whose emerged as an offensive threat with 14 catches for 160 yards the last three games. “We saw a lot of good things on Saturday that we are going to look to keep rolling. I think the coaches are going to put together another good game plan, and we are going to work all week in practice and do our best to go out and execute on Saturday.”
ILLINOIS: The Education Continues
CHAMPAIGN – For those alumni making their way back to East Central Illinois this weekend, they will once again be in a class.
This lesson might be the toughest for a large collection of youngsters under Lovie Smith in 2016.
Fifth-ranked Wisconsin comes to Champaign for the homecoming game at Memorial Stadium, one of the tougher contests of the season for an Illini team playing nearly a dozen true freshman on the regular in 2017.
One of those is Marian Catholic grad and Chicago Heights native Cam Thomas, who saw his first action at quarterback last Saturday. Splitting time with Jeff George Jr, Thomas ran the ball ten times for 79 yards in a limited throwing afternoon where he threw just four times.
He completed two of those but also threw a pick six in the fourth quarter in Minnesota’s 24-17 win that sent the Illini to their fifth-straight defeat. Thomas is expected to get some snaps this week and earned some praise from Smith after his debut last Saturday.
“We thought he did some things, gave us a little boost, of course, running the football ball but he made a couple good throws too. Unfortunately, we’d like to have one [pass] back. First time out, he made some freshman mistakes but it’s something to build on,” said Smith of Thomas. “Cam is a smart player and his preparation has always been there. Preparation for a freshman has been good, but there’s a lot he hasn’t seen.
“There’s a lot of situations he still needs to be in, but it’s that way with a lot of freshman.”
NORTHERN ILLINOIS: Back To Bowl Eligibility – Barely
DEKALB – Following an uncharacteristic season with less that six wins in 2016, Rod Carey’s team has rallied back quite nicely in 2017.
It’s not even November yet, and already Northern Illinois has the six wins needed to qualify for a postseason game in 2017. Although they barely got it during an unusual game against Eastern Illinois on Thursday night in DeKalb.
Down 24-10 in the fourth quarter, the Huskies rallied for two touchdowns late to tie the game and then held their breath as the Eagles missed a potential game-winning field goal as time expired in regulation. But even with Paul Fricano making the field goal attempt in overtime, Northern Illinois finished off the rally when Marcus Jones broke up the middle for the game-winning touchdown.
Not only doo the Huskies now have six wins on the season, but their 4-0 record in the MAC has them tied for the lead in the West Division with Toledo. That’s their next opponent coming up this Thursday, November 2nd at 5:30 PM at the Glass Bowl.