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Inside NU's Northwestern-Duke Predictions

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The staff is split on who will come out on top

Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

After cruising past an overmatched Eastern Illinois team, Northwestern has a much tougher task this weekend: the Duke Blue Devils (2-0) in Raleigh, North Carolina. Northwestern is actually the underdog in the matchup of the two undefeated teams. It's a tough game to pick, as Duke hasn't played anyone noteworthy as a measuring stick, and that's reflected in our picks. Here's how our writers think it will play out:

Henry Bushnell: Northwestern 23, Duke 19

I just don't understand all the love for Duke. This is a team that ranked 73rd nationally in S&P+ last year, lost its starting quarterback, best skill position player, and best offensive lineman (a first round NFL draft pick), and has played two cupcakes so far. Sure, you could make a similar argument for Northwestern; but injuries played a big part last year, and the Wildcats have shown me enough to change my preseason perception of them. Duke has not. NU has played one relevant game, and one irrelevant game. Duke has played two irrelevant games. I think both teams will move the ball decently at times, but struggle in the red zone. Northwestern's defense will be the difference.

Josh Rosenblat: Northwestern 20, Duke 13

Redzone struggles make this game closer than it should be and a second-half touchdown from Duke will end Northwestern's touchdown-less streak on defense. Northwestern, who was able to physically dominate a power-oriented team in Duke, will take a bit to adjust to Duke's speed but will eventually overwhelm the Blue Devils in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Also, Thorson will throw a pick.

Zach Pereles: Duke 20, Northwestern 17

Maybe it's because I'm from ACC country, but I think Duke truly has a very solid team led by an outstanding coach in David Cutcliffe. Thomas Sirk is a good athlete who always cashes in near the goal-line, there's speed all over the field, and the special teams unit is one of the best in the nation. This is the week that those Clayton Thorson passes that could have been picked off in the first two weeks are because Duke has an All-American in Jeremy Cash and an all-ACC selection in DeVon Edwards (an All-American returner, no less) in its secondary. The Wildcats might have the edge up front, but I'm not convinced that they'll be able to control the clock by running the ball a ton like they have the first two games. Thorson will have to make some big-time throws-- and have the best game of his very young career-- for Northwestern to come out on top on the road. That won't happen against this secondary.

Dan Waldman: Duke 21, Northwestern 13

In Duke's first two games, they've only allowed a combined 79 rushing yards, and with Northwestern's offense relying heavily on their running game, I don't see this going well for the ‘Cats. Albeit that Duke played two weak opponents in Tulane and North Carolina Central, their run defense is still one of the most daunting in the ACC. Tulane has scored the only touchdown so far against the Blue Devils and it came by way of passing, and Northwestern's passing game still hasn't taken off. Clayton Thorson, who I am predicting to throw at least one interception this game, will need to take some shots downfield to stay in this game. Tulane was able to put up 246 passing yards on Duke's secondary, and Thorson will need similar passing numbers for NU to have a chance.

Ian McCafferty: Northwestern 17, Duke 13

This game comes down to one matchup for me, Duke's rush defense vs Northwestern's running backs. Duke's rush defense was bad last year, like 112th in the nation in S&P+ bad, and we have no real idea if it's improved at all. They've only given up 79 rushing yards through two games, but Tulane and NC Central aren't exactly college football powerhouses. Jackson and company will be fed the ball early and often to test if Duke has truly improved defensively. I don't think they have a field day, but they certainly won't be completely stonewalled. I think Northwestern comes out on top in a defensive battle where both Thomas Sirk and Clayton Thorson throw their first career interceptions. The defense keeps its no touchdown streak on a technicality as Duke scores a TD on a special teams return.

Kevin Dukovic: Duke 20, Northwestern 17

Duke's improved front six (the Blue Devils run a 4-2-5) will keep Justin Jackson in check and force Clayton Thorson to throw the ball about 30 times. Offensive coordinator Mick McCall can only shelter his redshirt freshman quarterback for so long by dialing up dinks and dunks. Eventually, Thorson will have to stand tall in the pocket and take some shots downfield if the Wildcats are to win this game. And while he's remained unscathed so far this season (one sack, no turnovers), Thorson is still a rookie playing his first road game behind a banged up o-line. He's going to get rattled. It's unavoidable. Maybe he'll defy his inexperience for one more week, but I don't see it happening. Thorson makes one too many mistakes and the ‘Cats lose by a field goal.

Michael Odom: Northwestern 23, Duke 17

The Wildcats are better than (most of us) think. Duke's staunch run defense may not be so successful against a real power conference opponent, so don't be surprised if Northwestern's offensive line -- along with Justin Jackson and Warren Long -- control the clock. On the contrary, Northwestern's defense looks to be the real deal, so until proven otherwise, I'm taking the 'Cats in Durham.

Pick the final score the game below and it will compare your prediction with those from other Inside NU readers and readers of Duke Basketball Report and the Vegas line.