Like Purdue, Northwestern’s Week 2 matchup against Duke figures to be a close game. After an inconsistent 2017 season, including a mid-season six-game losing streak, Duke has the potential to be a top-40 team with a lot of returning pieces. The Blue Devils started their season off strong with a 34-14 win against Army in Week 1. Here are a few things to know about Duke ahead of its clash with Northwestern:
Duke is rebuilding its O-Line, but is solid at QB and RB
Quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Brittain Brown are both expected to take steps forward in their careers this year, but without solid protection or room to run, nothing is guaranteed. The offensive line remains a question for Duke this season as it introduces three new starters into full-time positions. After last season, the Blue Devils lost both starting tackles and an all-conference center.
Last week against Army, the line held up and allowed only one sack on the day, but the strong NU front seven should still be able to take advantage of the inexperienced line. Getting to the quarterback is imperative to the Wildcats’ success, as Jones is a dual-threat QB who excels in the run-pass option. While his stats may not have been as great as Duke hoped last year, he has talent and is definitely a threat. If a dual-threat signal-caller is not enough to keep the defensive line busy, the line will have to contain Brown, who rushed 712 yards last season and averaged 5.4 yards per carry as the second-string running back.
Duke has one of the best pass-defenses in the nation
During the six-game losing streak, Duke’s solid rush defense and exceptional pass defense provided hope. While the offense continually struggled, the defense finished the season ranked No. 6 in the nation in defensive passing success rate. Cornerback Mark Gilbert proved to be an elite playmaker on defense, racking up six interceptions and 14 pass breakups on the year. He also had three tackles in the Week 1 matchup against Army. Taking on the elite defense will be a challenge for Thorson and the NU receivers.
Duke struggled in close games last season but beat NU in a blowout win
When the game was close, Duke often had the opposite outcome from Northwestern. The Blue Devils lost four games by a touchdown or less, which is largely due to a lack of experience. A year later, the entire Duke core is more experienced and should execute better in close games. Despite their inability to pull out close wins last year, the Blue Devils were still able to stun Northwestern in a decisive 41-17 win.