McIntosh started the Aug. 28 season opener, going 10-14 for 87 yards and one touchdown, while rushing for 27 yards on four carries. Quarterback hopefuls Drew Hare and Anthony Maddie also ran the team during the 55-3 victory over Presbyterian College, however, continuing the mystery of who would call the snaps going forward.
“We feel like we have really good depth there but it’s time,” Carey said of choosing one of the QB trio. “Matt played well enough to be the starter. Mac separated himself enough with just how he operated the team that I can give him the nod right now.”
He debuts in the starting role at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 4, vs. the Northwestern Wildcats (0-1).
Offensive lineman Aidan Conlon is eager to begin the official McIntosh era.
“I felt like he was comfortable back there,” Conlon said. “He was a really good leader, really excited about calling plays and he looked like he was really comfortable and ready to go.”
“Personally I think all three did a good job, so I know Coach Carey had a hard time making that decision,” running back Akeem Daniels added. “But at the end of the day, we all just had to play our position, and whoever he names as the starter, which is Matt McIntosh, we have to rally behind him.”
That rally must include “great effort across every phase of the game, including the kicking game,” Carey said.
Northwestern “is a big rugged bunch that can run and will hit you in the mouth,” the coach said. “I can’t remember what my initial thoughts were like for Iowa and Purdue last year, because it was a year ago, but my initial thought of these guys are that they are really good.”
Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats lead the series with NIU 6-0-1, winning the last three of those seven. But the last time – Sept. 10, 2005, in Evanston – Northwestern squeaked past NIU by only one point, 38-37.
Now NIU is the winningest program in Illinois and in the Mid-American Conference over the last decade. The Huskies are 4-3 versus teams from the Big Ten since Sept. 19, 2009, and recorded two Big Ten wins a year ago.
Carey’s team also leads the country with 15 consecutive road victories in games played in its opponents’ home stadium, including wins at Army, Purdue and Iowa.
With a loss to Cal last week, Carey said, Northwestern is hungry for victory – and recent success against the Big Ten is of little comfort.
“As players and as coaches, you always have those butterflies in your stomach before the first play of any game, and we’ll have those again this week. We’ll get them out and then we’ll get playing football,” Carey said.
Northwestern is “big and rough and physical, so that’s always something where you have to step up and you have to match that when you play a team like that or any team on our schedule,” he added. “I haven’t looked at the numbers yet … I’m sure they have a weight advantage and a height advantage, things like that. But what I see on film is that they’re big and rough. It’s something we have to match, and it’s probably a concern everywhere.”
The chance to play any Big Ten school is “awesome,” linebacker Michael Santacaterina said.
“This whole battle-of-the-state thing going on is cool and everything, but to us it’s just another game on the schedule. We’re going to go in there and handle our business,” he said.
“We know it’s going to be a tough game,” he added. “They’re coming off of a tough loss. Coach Fitzgerald isn’t going to let that fester. I believe if we go in there and stay focused all week and have a good week of practice we can go in there and handle our business.”
One Huskie to watch this Saturday is Joel Bouagnon, who scored four times against Presbyterian.
“Joel obviously has worked his tail off to be in the situation he’s in and he is trying to make the most of it. He keeps working. Good things come to those who work,” Carey said. “Guys are trying to prove themselves day in and day out, and I think that’s how any successful football team operates. Nothing is given in football. It’s that old saying: ‘Success isn’t owned. It’s rented, and the rent is due every day.’ ”
Fans who can’t make the trip to Evanston can watch the game on the Big Ten Network or listen on AM 560 WIND (Chicago) or WCPT 92.5 FM (DeKalb).