Last week, everyone on our staff (plus guest picker Tino Malnati) went 1-0 as Northwestern survived a slow start against Nevada. This Saturday’s game against Duke, however, is no sure thing. The Wildcats are just 3-point favorites on the road and S&P+ predicts a 1-point Duke victory. Our writers are joined this week by guest picker, All-Big Ten First Team honoree and Northwestern women’s soccer points leader Kayla Sharples.
Kayla Sharples - Northwestern 27, Duke 21
This will be a tight game with momentum shifts, but Northwestern will pull off the win late in the game. Coach Fitz prepares the team well coming off last week’s win, so they won’t be complacent. Justin Jackson will build from last game where he carried the ball 30 times for 109 yards. Clayton Thorson and Ben Skowronek will show up again to help the team win. Duke’s QB, Daniel Jones, had some strong performances last year and he could have a solid outing tomorrow, but our defense will shut him down when it counts. Lastly, our true freshmen seem promising and will make another big statement this game.
Will Ragatz - Northwestern 27, Duke 17
Don’t get me wrong, this game worries me and is one Northwestern could easily lose if it doesn’t show up in Durham ready to play. With that said, though, there are a few reasons why I think the Wildcats will win a bit more comfortably than most expect. First and foremost, getting challenged in Week 1 was a great thing to happen to this team. It knows where it has to improve and will come out much stronger in the first half on Saturday. Mike Hankwitz, who has allowed a total of 23 points to Duke the past two seasons, will dial up more blitzes to get to Daniel Jones, and the ailing but still strong Northwestern secondary will come up with a couple interceptions. Clayton Thorson and Justin Jackson each once again break the 300 and 100-yard plateaus, respectively, and Jalen Brown picks up his first touchdown (and catch) as a Wildcat.
Ian McCafferty - Northwestern 34, Duke 27
Predicting this one is a little difficult due to the fact that Northwestern struggled with Nevada and Duke hasn’t played an actual football team yet (sorry NC Central). As Will said, getting an actual challenge in week one (and not losing) was the best thing that could have happened to this team. They’re still 1-0 but hopefully more aware than they were heading into the opener. I’m still fairly high on this team, I just think a banged up defense will give up some points. That being said, Clayton Thorson really impressed me against Nevada and I think he comes out and carves up Duke’s defense. It might look a little iffy at times, but Northwestern’s offense (crazy I know) will lead the team to its third straight victory over the Blue Devils.
Tristan Jung (Random number generator) - Northwestern 57, Duke 55
The random numbers are giving us a highly entertaining shootout. Yes, I am a total cop-out.
Davis Rich-- Northwestern 28, Duke 24
Following last week’s slog of a first half, Northwestern is going to come out sharp on Saturday. Mick McCall will look establish the run early and a long drive or two will inspire confidence on both sides of the ball. I’m worried about the Northwestern defense, and Duke’s balanced offense should be able to score a few times on a maligned secondary. I’ve talked about this before, but in close games, experience wins out, and Pat Fitzgerald and this Northwestern team has had more than their fair share of cardiac finishes. A late Justin Jackson touchdown wins this one for the ‘Cats.
Martin Oppegaard - Northwestern 34, Duke 23
I was six points off in my Week 1 prediction so we’re trying to stay hot here. Duke gets an early lead behind the improved play of redshirt sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones, but Northwestern’s high-powered offense is too much for David Cutcliffe’s defense to handle. The Wildcats take a three-point lead into the half and stretch it out to double digits by the end of the game.
Josh Burton - Northwestern 20, Duke 10
The Wildcats redeem themselves after an uneven effort in Week 1. Duke is better than Nevada but the Northwestern passing game — especially Bennett Skowronek and Macan Wilson — was surprisingly effective, which should bode well down for the game in Durham.
Talia Hendel - Northwestern 27, Duke 20
Sure, the season opener was a little too close for comfort, but it was still a win. While I’m not saying I expect a massacre this Saturday, I would be surprised if Northwestern doesn’t move to 2-0. There are areas that certainly need improvement, but some of the doubts I had entering the Nevada game were outweighed by two things that were clear by the end. One, Clayton Thorson’s confidence and command over his team, exhibited by his patience and ability to nail difficult plays in big-time moments. Two, the variety of receivers who stepped up in the gaping hole left by Austin Carr’s graduation, particularly Skowronek and Wilson, as Josh said. I agree with Will as well; a hard-fought win provided the ideal combination of allowing this team to maintain its confidence while also making it clear it will have to step up in order to have a successful season.
Caleb Friedman - Duke 31, Northwestern 28
I know Northwestern has had Duke's number in recent years, but the circumstances are different now. The NU secondary is in dire straits with Brian Bullock (and Keith Watkins II and Trae Williams) out, and the Blue Devils will take full advantage of that. The defenses Pat Fitzgerald and Mike Hankwitz roll out in Durham won't be as vanilla as they were against Nevada, but I have real concerns about how the Wildcats' linebackers and corners will deal with Duke's skill position players in space. Clayton Thorson and the offense will have another good game, but so will Duke QB Daniel Jones. This one has all the makings of a trap game (even though the disparity between the two teams probably isn't that large).
Zach Pereles: Northwestern 27, Duke 24
Northwestern wins on the back of big days from both Thorson and Jackson. Charlie Kuhbander hits the game-winner from short range.