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Rapid Reaction: Duke rides hot second quarter, takes down Northwestern 21-7

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It was déja vu in the second quarter.

NCAA Football: Duke at Northwestern Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

EVANSTON, IL — This one felt familiar.

Northwestern (1-1, 1-0 Big Ten) started the first half hot, but burned out quickly, falling 21-7 to Duke at home. The Wildcats were on the board first as Jeremy Larkin scored his third touchdown of the season on a 2-yard run on the opening drive. However, the entire second quarter belonged to Duke (2-0) and quarterback Daniel Jones, who left the game early with looked like an arm injury. Jones and the Blue Devils put up 21 unanswered points in the second quarter, and that’s all they needed.

Jones threw for 159 yards and all three of Duke’s touchdowns in the first half, and Duke’s RPO-heavy offense worked wonders to open up opportunities for Duke throughout the decisive second-quarter. Northwestern’s secondary often looked a step slow in the first half.

At the start of the second half, Northwestern’s offense seemed to awaken from its quarter-long slumber. On the Wildcats’ first drive of the half, they found themselves near the goal line for the first time since their touchdown, but were unable to convert. The drive finished with a questionable call to go for it on fourth and goal from the Duke four, rather than electing to kick the field goal to make the score 21-10. The Wildcats would muster together a couple more threatening drives throughout the second half, but came up short on every one of them.

Thorson and Green still splitting time

After sharing time at quarterback last week against Purdue, Northwestern trotted both starter Clayton Thorson and back-up TJ Green out again this week. Thorson was effective early in the first half, starting 10-of-12 and leading a touchdown drive on the opening series. After punting on the second series, Green entered the game and threw an interception on his first attempt. The next series, Thorson got picked off on a deep pass into double coverage.

The two rotated throughout the rest of the game, with neither of them having particularly impressive games. Thorson finished the game 22-of-38 for 198 passing yards, while Green finished 9-of-18 for 84 yards. Both quarterbacks faced heavy pressure in the pocket and had little time to throw throughout the game.

Jeremy Larkin looked strong again

Larkin announced his presence as the new starting running back in Week 1 against Purdue, and the sophomore running back came ready to play again for this week’s game against Duke. Larkin finished the game at 176 all-purpose yards, 121 rushing and 55 receiving. The highlight of the day for Larkin was his 40-yard run on Northwestern’s first drive of the game. Northwestern has a bright future at running back going forward.

Play Action and RPOs tore Northwestern’s defense apart in the first half

Last year, Daniel Jones had an answer to everything that Northwestern’s defense threw at him, finishing that 41-17 romping over NU with 413 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns. In the first half of this year’s game, Jones had his way with Northwestern again. Jones finished the first half with 159 passing yards and three touchdowns, and consistently burned the middle of NU’s defense with RPOs and play-fakes. The NU linebackers often looked a step slow, and the secondary, Montre Hartage included, had a tough time hanging with Duke’s receivers in the first half.

The second half was a different story, but it didn’t matter. The Wildcats defense made the appropriate adjustments and shut Duke out in the final 30 minutes, but Duke’s second-quarter flurry proved to be enough to cross the finish line.

Other Notes:

  • Cam Green was ejected from the game due to a targeting call when trying to make a tackle following Thorson’s interception. James Prather saw his first game action of the season Saturday.
  • The Thorson-Nagel connection was working today. Nagel finished with 133 yards receiving with an average of 11.1 yards per catch.
  • Northwestern actually outgained Duke (381 to 301) and won the time of possession battle. Turnovers were the story on the day.
  • Northwestern faces Akron at home next Saturday.