Yes, football is an 11-on-11 game, but when it comes down to it, you have to win at the individual level to win at the team level. Here are three individual matchups that will be key in Saturday’s game between Northwestern and Duke.
C.J. Robbins vs. Casey Blaser
Given how dysfunctional both offenses were last week, this could turn into a typical Northwestern defensive struggle. At the forefront of this battle will be new starting defensive end C.J. Robbins, who came in against Illinois State and played well. Robbins will go against Casey Blaser, a redshirt senior right tackle who struggled against Wake Forest last week. Robbins shored up Northwestern’s run defense and generated a much-needed pass rush, and if he can cause some havoc against Blaser, Duke’s redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Jones will be in trouble.
Anthony Nash vs. Montre Hartage
If Duke has time to throw the ball, the majority of passes will be headed in Anthony Nash’s direction. Nash had over 100 yards on eight catches in the loss to Wake Forest and is a threat to Northwestern’s depleted secondary. Instead of Matt Harris or Keith Watkins, Montre Hartage will draw the assignment. Opposing quarterbacks are picking on Hartage, and covering Nash will be much more difficult than covering Illinois State’s receivers.
Clayton Thorson vs. DeVon Edwards
Last season, Edwards picked off Thorson on the Wildcats’ second possession. Duke immediately converted its good field position into a 7-0 lead. With the departure of Jeremy Cash (now playing linebacker for the Panthers after going undrafted), Edwards is listed as a safety on the depth chart, but he can switch to cornerback when necessary in Duke’s ever-transforming 4-2-5 defense. Thorson needs to be careful when throwing the ball in his direction, and Edwards will be all over Austin Carr in this game. If Edwards takes away Thorson’s security blanket receiver, Northwestern’s passing offense will be even more hapless.