When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 12:00 pm
Where: Ryan Field, Evanston, Illinois
Line: Duke +2.5
Last Time: Duke 41, Northwestern 17. Daniel Jones had arguably his best game as a Blue Devil in last season’s matchup between Duke and Northwestern in Durham. Jones completed 29 of 45 passes for 305 yards and 2 touchdowns and ran for 108 yards and 2 more scores. Duke amassed 538 total yards to just 191 for the Wildcats, including just 22 rushing yards. TJ Rahming had 127 receiving yards on 12 catches, while the touchdown passes went to Chris Taylor and Davis Koppenhaver. Cornerback Mark Gilbert tallied his first 2 career interceptions in the game. Northwestern took a 3-0 lead with a 40 yard field goal in the first quarter before Duke took complete control, with the game never being closer than 2 scores after the first quarter
This year’s matchup expects to be much closer than last year’s blowout. Purdue opened the season with a conference road win over Purdue, while Duke handled business at home against Army. If game one signals how the Wildcats are going to move forward through the season, Duke will be forced to game plan for two different quarterbacks. Senior Clayton Thorson started the game, but essentially split time with junior TJ Green. Thorson is working his way back from an ACL injury and its unclear if the two quarterback system is just to ease him back into game shape or something that will holdup throughout the season.
The key for the Duke defense will be to slow the ground game of Northwestern. Running back Jeremy Larkin ran for 143 yards in the opening game and will most likely be on pace for another 20+ carry game. If Duke can force the Wildcats into obvious passing situations they can use their risk taking blitzes to force whichever Northwestern QB is under center into some turnovers. The Duke defense gave up a lot of big passing plays to Army last week, but for now we will assume they were caught off guard seeing the triple option throw the ball that many times. The Blue Devils have playmakers both up front on defense and in the secondary and should have all the necessary tools to make things difficult on the Northwestern offense.
Duke avoided a season altering injury scare last week when Brittain Brown hyperextended his knee on a run in the second half. All indications are that Brown will be good to go this Saturday, but we could see increased reps for Deon Jackson if Brown’s knee is still bothering him. The Duke offense is at its best when they are balanced, not just run to pass, but also with how they run the ball. While Daniel Jones is an effective runner, he doesn’t need to be the primary ball carrier for the Blue Devils. Both Brown and Jackson are dynamic runners who can grind out tough yards as well as hit a second gear in open space. Jones primary focus should be on getting the ball down the field through the air and letting the backs shoulder the rushing load.