SOUTH BEND – Despite the fact that they are not far away, they’ve not met up on the gridiron in quite a while.
They’ve met 16 times on the gridiron through the years, but they haven’t done so since 1964, and the chance to do so was delayed another year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But finally, after 57 years, the two programs will meet on the gridiron at Soldier Field Saturday at 11 AM as each team looks for a signature victory in the first month of the season. The 18th-ranked Badgers are 1-1 on the season after losing a tight game to Ohio State at home in the opener then beating Eastern Michigan last week.
The Irish, meanwhile, are 3-0 on the season but haven’t been as impressive as some hoped, narrowly beating Florida State after squandering an 18-point lead then rallying in the final minutes to beat Toledo at home. That dropped then out of the top ten to 12th in the rankings before a slightly more comfortable win over Purdue in Week 3.
Quarterback Jack Coan has led the Irish in all those victories and this week is especially big for him since he spent the previous four seasons at Wisconsin. With Graham Mertz overtaking him for the job in 2021, the quarterback decided to spend his graduate transfer year with the Irish.
But there are no hard feelings when it comes to the Badgers, and Coan even expected to reach out to some of his former teammates this week.
“I’ll definitely talk to my friends this week and wish them luck,” said Coan. “At the end of the day, I hope for the best for them, obviously hope for the best for me and this team as well.”
During his career in Madison, the quarterback started 18 games, and when he left this offseason there was no doubt that this one was one his mind when he realized who Notre Dame’s fourth opponent of the year would be.
“We’ve definitely talked about it a little bit a while back and it’s crazy how it’s come to this moment already,” said Coan. “It will be lot of fun.”
NORTHWESTERN: A Quarterback Question Again
EVANSTON – It was nice Pat Fitzgerald to not have to worry about the quarterback position during the 2020 season, since graduate transfer Peyton Ramsey was strong in leading Northwestern to a Big Ten West title.
But just like two years ago, problems with the starter have thrown the position back into flux.
Hunter Johnson, who won the job in training camp, threw three interceptions against Duke in the first half last Saturday and was pulled from the game. Andrew Marty and Ryan Hilinski would come in relief, but neither could generate a comeback in a 30-23 loss to the Blue Devils.
On Northwestern’s depth chart this week, there was no starter listed, with Hilinski, Johnson, or Marty possibly getting the shot to play against Ohio at Ryan Field on Saturday.
Whoever starts, Fitzgerald says that they’ll have to do a better job of getting things off on the right foot, since the Wildcats’ turnovers an inconsistent play lead to a 27-0 hole they couldn’t climb out of despite a rally.
“We were three plays away from putting ourselves in every position to win that game at the end, and we ended up a few plays short,” said Fitzgerald. “That’s why you’ve got to start faster. You can’t put yourself in that kinda hole repeatedly and expect to have success. It’s too daughnting against good teams, we can’t do, we can’t keep beating ourselves.”
ILLINOIS: STICKING WITH BRANDON
CHAMPAIGN – His performance was expected to boost Illinois have two-straight losses, but instead it as a struggle for Brandon Peters.
He was 10-of-26 for 185 yards with an interception as the Illini dropped a late lead in a 20-17 loss to Maryland. But instead of making the switch at quarterback, Bret Bielema said he will stick with Peters as Illinois visits Purdue for their third Big Ten game of 2021 on Saturday at 2:30 PM.
In fact, the coach was the one trying to pump up the quarterback after he took a lot of the blame for the loss.
“Communication from BP was what he was putting a lot on himself. I encouraged him and told him, ‘Hey, you experienced a lot of new things with our coaching staff in a game scenario,'” said Bielema of Peters. “There was a lot of good learning for him, but unfortunately because of how games play out, we have to learn through adversity.”
NORTHERN ILLINOIS: A ROUGH DAY IN THE BIG HOUSE
DEKALB – After two exciting games to start the season, one that went for and one that went against them, Northern Illinois had a very bad afternoon in the “Big House” last Saturday.
Michigan led 35-3 at halftime then put up 28 points in the third quarter to coast to a 63-10 victory to send the Huskies to 1-2 on the season. This came after an upset win at Georgia Tech then an exciting game in a loss to Wyoming in the home opener in Week 2.
Now Thomas Hammock looks ahead to his team’s final non-conference game against Maine at Huskie Stadium on Saturday at 1:30 PM. They’ll open up Mid-American Conference play the following Saturday in DeKalb against Eastern Michigan.