DURHAM — Duke couldn’t generate enough offense and Northwestern made enough plays in all three phases – offense, defense and special teams – to defeat the upset minded Blue Devils, 19-10 on Saturday afternoon at Wallace Wade Stadium.
The Blue Devils (2-1) outgained the Wildcats (3-0) 327-271, but four costly turnovers, and a questionable offensive strategy ultimately did in the home team.
Duke’s inability to stretch the field allowed Northwestern to keep everything in front of them, not letting the Blue Devils hit a home run play. The Wildcats, however, got a trio of grand slams from all its units.
Solomon Vault returned the opening kickoff of the second half 98-yards for a score to make it 9-7 after a rather forgettable first half. After the two teams exchanged field goals, Duke had a chance to force a punt. On third and one, Northwestern running back Warren Long went 55-yards for the final score.
Late in the second quarter, with Duke threatening deep in Wildcats’ territory, Northwestern defensive end Dean Lowry picked off Thomas Sirk to kill a Blue Devil drive. It would be as close as Duke would get to the endzone the rest of the way.
“Today, Northwestern was the better team,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “They did a better job from a penalty standpoint. They had a couple of interceptions – and we got after their quarterback like crazy – but overall they did a better job of taking care of the ball and doing the little things. That’s the bottom line.”
Coming into a matchup with a top-25 team, the Blue Devils knew what was at stake, and early on, it appeared they were ready for the upset. DeVon Edwards intercepted a Clayton Thorson pass to set up the first score of the evening for Duke, a 5-yard run by Sirk. But the rest of the first half would turn into a punt fest. The field position never flipped, and neither did the firepower switch as Duke went into the locker room with a 7-3 lead.
Coming out for the second half, the Devils felt good about their chances.
“We had a lot of energy (coming out for the second half),” Duke center Matt Skura said. “We knew at halftime we were kind of shooting ourselves in the foot. Coming out of the tunnel we were really excited, we thought we could get it done.”
Vault had other plans, giving Northwestern a jolt with the 98-yard return.
Duke would only put a field goal on the board the rest of the way, as Northwestern pounded it away on the ground most of the second half.
The Wildcats finished with 201 yards on the ground, 182 of those coming after intermission.
“We knew it was going to be a tough battle in the trenches from day one last week,” Duke defensive lineman A.J. Wolf said. “They did a really good job running the ball. We just didn’t get it done towards the end of the game.”
Game changer – Down by two, Duke had Northwestern facing a third and one from just beyond midfield. This was a great time for a stop for the Blue Devils. However, not only did they give up a first down, they gave up a 55-yard run to Warren Long, the final score of the day.
Stick with it – If you’re Northwestern, stick with running the ball behind your big offensive line. The Wildcats had a huge advantage over Duke up front, eventually wearing down the smaller Blue Devils’ front. Northwestern rushed for 201 yards in the win.
Get rid of it – Duke should throw the screen passes to the flats out the window. Now it’s on tape that the Blue Devils will settle for short passes if that’s what teams give them. They didn’t test the deep pass enough to keep Northwestern honest.
Numbers don’t lie
3: Number of Duke turnovers, one coming in the redzone in the first half with the Blue Devils in scoring position.
21: Total of number of punts between the two teams. In the first half, one could argue each punter was the MVP of their team.
54: Total number of rushing attempts by Northwestern. While Sirk was shaking for Duke, Thorson didn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of Blue Devil defenders. So what did Northwestern do? Ran behind their big boys.
Dean Lowry, Northwestern: The 6-6 senior defensive end had seen enough of screen passes from Thomas Sirk. With Duke threatening late in the second quarter, Lowry stepped in front of a pass attempt from Sirk and returned it 18 yards. He also finished with six tackles.
Justin Jackson, Northwestern: It really didn’t seem like Jackson had so many yards, but he finished with 120 yards on 35 carries. That’s a good days work of churning out yards and, more importantly, burning some clock to finish off the Devils.
DeVon Edwards, Duke: The Blue Devils junior safety picked off Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson to set up Duke’s only touchdown of the afternoon. He also finished with 11 tackles.
Jeremy Cash, Duke: Cash is as good as advertised, finishing with 11 tackles, seven solo.