Julian Love can’t wait to get to Ryan Field.
The fact that the junior cornerback for No. 3 Notre Dame played his high school football at Nazareth Catholic Academy in suburban Chicago, about 30 miles from the Northwestern campus in Evanston, has something to do with it.
“It was a school I really considered until Notre Dame came into the picture,” Love said. “I have a lot of respect for Northwestern — they do a good job over there — but (playing at) Notre Dame has always been a dream of mine.”
The fact that Northwestern, the surprise leader of the Big Ten’s West Division, likes to throw the football will make Love’s homecoming much more interesting, too.
A week ago, the Fighting Irish (8-0, No. 4 CFP) came out of a bye week and beat Navy 44-22 in a game that saw the Midshipmen attempt just 12 passes. That’s a long day with a lot of run support defense for a talented cornerback like Love.
“With the bye week, it’s felt like we haven’t played a real offense in a long time,” Love chuckled. “Real as in normal offensive schemes. A normal offense. Yeah, I’m very happy.”
Love, who has three fumble recoveries and an interception this season, was limited to two solo tackles (giving him 26 for the season) against Navy. A first-team member of the Associated Press midseason All-America defensive team, Notre Dame’s career leader with 35 passes broken up (12 this season) was even victimized when 6-foot-5, 220-pound wide receiver Mychal Cooper outleaped the 5-foot-11 Love for a 34-yard reception.
Love, of course, is more familiar doing the stealing. Last season, he returned interceptions for touchdowns against Michigan State and North Carolina State, and this season he had a 42-yard fumble return for a touchdown in Notre Dame’s 45-23 victory at Virginia Tech.
The Wildcats (5-3, 5-1 Big Ten) have won four straight and have their sights set on the conference title game. Love is looking forward to going up against Clayton Thorson, Northwestern’s senior quarterback who has completed nearly 61 percent of his passes for 2,072 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“(Thorson) trusts his receivers and has a big arm,” Love said. “He has the capability of making plays.”
But then, so does Love, who plays as hard in practice as he plays in games.
“I’ve said this before many times — going up against Julian every day just makes me a better player,” said 6-foot-4 wide receiver Miles Boykin, another Irish player from suburban Chicago who played summer 7-on-7 football with Love and Northwestern wide receiver Flynn Nagel.
“Obviously, he’s athletic; obviously, he’s fast,” Boykin said. “But the thing everyone overlooks is how smart he is. I mean, I could line up my feet a certain way against Julian, and he could tell me the three routes I might run.”
Quarterback Ian Book sees the talents, too.
“Julian is always in the right spot and has a knack for the ball,” he said. “I think it is great for our offense to go against him every day.”
Coach Brian Kelly had to have a heart-to-heart conversation with Love this spring when he thought his cornerback was trying too hard.
“The conversation I had with Julian is that he didn’t have to make those plays — he needed to just continue to evolve and strengthen his skill set,” Kelly said. “I think he’s done that this year. He doesn’t have to be out there making interceptions to be considered one of the top corners in the country.”