2016 feels like so long ago, but actually, it was the last time that Northwestern took care of business against the Duke Blue Devils. Both teams will play each other at Ryan Field Saturday, as the Wildcats (1-0), fresh off a win in Dublin, Ireland Aug. 27 against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, will look to keep the momentum going against their counterparts from the ACC.
As for the Blue Devils (1-0), it’s their first road test when they travel to Evanston to take on the ‘Cats. But this first column for Inside NU that I, a Big Ten follower and alumnus of what NU dubs “little brother,” is not about that.
Welcome to Flashback Friday, a series that gives you an inside look at the best Northwestern games and moments from past glory. Look no further than what took place on Sept. 18, 2016, in front of a jubilated Wildcats fanbase.
For those who need a refresher, Northwestern got off to a rough start in ‘16. Led by Clayton Thorson at quarterback, NU stumbled to an 0-2 start that saw the Wildcats lose to two non-Power Five schools in Western Michigan and Illinois State, both of which were by less than three points with final scores of 22-21 and 9-7 respectively.
Searching for answers, the Wildcats needed a spark in Week 3, and sure enough, the team delivered. For the third-straight game, Ryan Field was the host of what would be the start of a 4-1 stretch throughout the team’s next five games. But before NU could even get there, though, it had to knock off Duke to give any lasting fans hope.
First and second quarter:
Northwestern came out firing early in the contest and set the tone for the evening. Still scoreless, Thorson, a Wheaton North graduate, drew first blood on the Devils’ secondary. His deep pass to Garrett Dickerson gave the Wildcats the early lead. It was Northwestern’s second opening drive that had ended with a touchdown in its first three games.
Those would be the only points the ‘Cats would score throughout the entire first half of play, as Duke was able to even the score at seven apiece entering the halftime break. Daniel Jones, now a quarterback in the NFL for the New York Giants, was held to under 300 yards passing for the day and threw a costly interception that likely shifted the momentum in favor of the home side.
Northwestern dominated the second half of play. Just minutes after halftime, Thorson connected with another big target that year, Solomon Vault, who was versatile in the backfield during his years with the ‘Cats to increase the lead to 14-7. Northwestern would tack on a field goal before putting the game to bed in the fourth quarter. The defense held the Duke rushing attack to under 200 yards, as it stayed locked in during the vast majority of the Blue Devils’ scoring chances.
The Wildcats would ice the game as a fan favorite, Austin Carr, found paydirt to cap off a 135-yard performance in front of his classmates and fans. Duke tried to make the game interesting late, but too many missed opportunities gave the Wildcats a chance to get the job done. And they did.
Check out the highlights of the win, courtesy of the Big Ten Network.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 11:00 a.m. CT on FS1 from Ryan Field.