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Duke vs. Northwestern Preview

Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

When: Saturday, September 9, 2017. 12:00 PM.

Where: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, North Carolina

Television: ESPNU

Line: Duke +3.5

Last Time: Duke 13, Northwestern 24.  The Blue Devils visited the Wildcats in week 3 last season.  The game was tied at 7 at the half before Northwestern score 17 unanswered points in the second half before a meaningless Shaun Wilson touchdown with less than a minute remaining. Both teams combined for 802 yards of offense, but also combined for 4 turnovers.  The Duke defense had 5 sacks, an interception, and a fumble recovery.  TJ Rahming had 8 catches for 70 yards. Both Duke scores came in the ground with Jela Duncan scoring Duke’s first half touchdown.

Game Preview:

The Blue Devils dominated both sides if the ball in their season opener against NC Central.  The competition will be much tougher this week when Northwestern comes to town.

The Wildcats were on their heels in their home opener against Nevada before taking control in the fourth quarter.  But that shouldn’t give Duke a false sense of confidence. Last year Northwestern lost to FCS Illinois State before defeating the Blue Devils.

Northwestern has a talented quarterback in Clayton Thorson.  He will challenge the Duke secondary, who will talented lack a ton of game experience, outside if Bryon Fields.  Thorson was 28/38 for 352 yards and 2 touchdowns last week. He did have one interception.  Justin Jackson is the definition of a workhorse running back.  He had 30 carries last week and was the leading rusher in the Big Ten last season. The front six of the Duke defense will have to contain him on their own because the secondary will have to focus all of their efforts on keeping Thorson and the passing game in check.

On offense Duke will hope to carry over the strong, balanced attack they showcased in week one.  Redshirt freshman Brittain Brown stole the show, running for 120 yards and a touchdown on just 10 carries.  Shaun Wilson added 59 yards and a touchdown.  Coach Cutcliffe was pleased with the performance of his offensive line in game one so look for Duke to try and establish the running game early against the Wildcats.  Noethwestern gave up over 5 yards per carry against Nevada last week so this might be an area Duke can claim an advantage.  The passing game was pretty basic against the Eagles, but Daniel Jones did spread the ball around. Look for a few more wrinkles on offense in week 2 with more of a focus on getting the ball to TJ Rahming quickly with room to run.  The Northwestern pass defense played pretty well in week one so Jones and company will have to be focused and execute. This isn’t the game where Duke can afford to make mistakes in the passing game.

Duke has only won once in the last 9 games against Northwestern, it will take execution in all three phases of the game to come out of Saturday with a victory.