CAMPUS CHECK-IN: Northwestern makes history under the lights on Friday night

EVANSTON, IL - NOVEMBER 03: A general view of Ryan Field in action during a football game between the Northwestern Wildcats and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on November 3, 2018 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

EVANSTON – There are two ways in which Northwestern can make history on Friday, and they get at least one of those by just kicking off.

That’s because the Wildcats are taking part in their first Friday night home game in Ryan Field history, and a number of adjustments had to be made for the weeknight game in Evanston. A majority of them came from outside the university, as the area used to games on Saturday braces for the unique event

“From our partners at the middle schools and the grade schools in Evanston to our partners at the hospital to our partners on campus, Evanston police, Northwestern police, our gameday operations; the list goes on and on,” said a very thankful head coach Pat Fitzgerald to start his news conference on Monday. “It’s been quite a bit of an undertaking to be able to get the logistics done for a Friday night game here, especially with the location of Ryan Field and the partners that we have that we share things with.

“A lot of hard work has gone into it. I appreciate all that had to be done in preparation for the game.”

That’s just to get everyone to the stadium – which is an undertaking in itself – then comes Fitzgerald’s challenge on the field.

No. 4 Ohio State has raced past just about everyone on their schedule en route to a 6-0 start to the season. Their closest game so far was 24 points, and the Buckeyes are beating their opponents by an average of 49-9 and may end up being Northwestern’s most difficult opponent in 2019.

Quarterback Justin Fields has taken over at quarterback from Dwyane Haskins and is thriving – throwing for 1,298 yards with 18 touchdowns compared to one interception with eight rushing scores as well. It’s all quite a challenge for the 1-4 Wildcats who could really use a breakthrough against the Buckeyes to put their season back on track.

Maybe the “Friday Night Lights” can provide some inspiration.

“It’s interesting. It brings you back to high school, right?” said senior defensive lineman Joe Gaziano.

ILLINOIS: It only gets harder for homecoming

CHAMPAIGN – As if the roller coaster wasn’t enough for Illini fans last week, now the bulldozer is on tap for this week.

That would be an apt description for how well Wisconsin is playing at the moment since few teams have stayed within striking distance of the Badgers this season. They roll into Champaign with a potent offense led by Heisman Trophy hopeful Jonathan Taylor (825 yards, 14 touchdowns) and a defense that’s allowed 29 total points all season.

Nothing like a team that’s running over people on offense and a defense that’s pitched four shutouts coming into Memorial Stadium for homecoming with a host Illinois on a four-game losing streak. As good as their offense is, Lovie Smith had plenty to say about the Badgers’ defenders.

“That’s hard to do, first off. To play six games and have four shutouts, they’ve taken the ball away. I think they’ve scored four times, too; I think they’ve given up four touchdowns and they’ve scored four,” said Smith of that Wisconsin defense. “I’ve watched what they do. It’s not reinventing football or anything like that. They’re just where their supposed to be, they play hard together. Yeah, they’ve got playmakers, but they’ve been good for a period of time.”

Smith still won’t say if quarterback Brandon Peters will be able to return Saturday after missing the Michigan game as he goes through recovery from a concussion. But the coach did say that if he’s available, he’ll start over Matt Robinson, who filled in during the loss to Michigan last Saturday.

NORTHERN ILLINOIS: On The Board in the MAC

DEKALB –  The start to the Thomas Hammock era with Northern Illinois hasn’t been the easiest, but thanks to last week, it does have a memorable moment.

That came at Ohio last Saturday when the Huskies put an end to their four-game losing streak with a thrilling win at Ohio.

Down 21-10 at the half, NIU rallied to take the lead in the second half behind the efforts of running back Tre Harbison, whose three touchdowns in the second half got his team the lead. The Bobcats tied it up in the fourth quarter, but a 56-yard drive in the final 3:38 led to a Josh Richardson field goal as time expired to give the Huskies a 39-36 win.

The victory was NIU’s first since week one and their first in the Mid-American Conference, getting the bad taste of a loss to Ball State the week before out of their mouth.

Hammock’s team stays on the road this week to face Miami of Ohio on Saturday, with each team entering the contest at 2-4 along with 1-1 in the MAC.

NOTRE DAME HAS THE BYE WEEK

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