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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern steamrolled by Duke 38-14

Can’t block and can’t tackle.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Duke Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports

Durham, North Carolina has become a house of horrors.

On Saturday afternoon, Northwestern (1-2, 0-1 B1G) was decimated by Duke (3-0, 1-0 ACC) 38-14. The Blue Devils had their way with the Wildcats, rushing for 238 yards and five touchdowns.

Duke QB Riley Leonard was the star of the game, throwing for 215 yards and adding another 97 on the ground. He also added two scores with his legs. Jordan Waters added another 65 yards and two touchdowns for the Blue Devils. For Northwestern, Ben Bryant passed for 123 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Cam Johnson added 45 yards on five catches.

NU started with the ball, and after a jet sweep by A.J. Henning picked up nine yards on first down, the Wildcats could not pick up the final three feet. On third down, Ben Bryant was stuffed at the line of scrimmage on a QB sneak. To make matters worse, Hunter Renner shanked a punt for just 22 net yards, setting the Blue Devils up near midfield.

Duke had no problem moving the ball down the field. Waters was the bell cow of the drive, pummeling through multiple Wildcats to pick up a third-down conversion. Just a few plays later, Waters busted through the middle, as the Blue Devils parted the Red Sea, and No. 7 went untouched to the endzone to put DU on the scoreboard first.

On the ensuing Wildcats’ drive, Northwestern picked up its first fresh set of downs of the day on a seven-yard completion to Johnson but stalled on the ensuing three plays. The ‘Cats punted again, and it was another shank by Renner. However, the Blue Devils were not able to capitalize on the short field. After picking up a first down, Duke found itself a yard short on fourth. Leonard tried to sneak the ball over the line to gain, but NU stuffed the gunslinger at the line of scrimmage, handing the ball right back to the Wildcats at midfield.

NU reached Blue Devil territory on a third down conversion to Bryce Kirtz, but the offense stalled once again. Renner, on his third attempt, finally got hold of one and pinned Duke inside its own 10.

On Duke’s ensuing drive, the Blue Devils marched right down the field. Multiple 10+ runs and a 34-yard pass to Jalon Calhoun put DU into the red zone, and a QB draw by Leonard set the Blue Devils inside the 1-yard line as the first quarter expired. Waters punched it in to expand Duke’s lead to 14-0 less than a minute into the second quarter.

The Wildcats’ offense still couldn’t find a rhythm. After a five-yard gain by Cam Porter on first down, NU found themselves in a third-and-short scenario. Bryant hit Henning past the line to gain, but a big hit knocked the ball out, and Northwestern had to punt again.

On the ensuing drive, it was the Riley Leonard show. No. 13 slipped a free rusher, broke through the offensive line, and took off running for 33 yards, all the way to the edge of the red zone. NU defense was able to hold Duke and force the Blue Devils to settle for three, pushing the lead to 17-0.

Northwestern finally started to move the ball on offense. Bryant kept the drive alive with a third-down conversion to Johnson, and Henning picked up another fresh set of downs on a jet sweep. Joseph Himon added another two first downs. On the edge of the red zone, Bryant ripped a dart to Bryce Kirtz for another third-down conversion. Two plays later, No. 2 found a wide-open Henning to put the Wildcats on the board and cut Duke’s lead 17-7. The scoring drive was 15 plays, 73 yards and 8:26.

With just 34 seconds on the clock, Leonard gave the ‘Cats a scare with a 24-yard strike to Calhoun, which set up Duke at midfield. However, an Anto Saka sack off the edge kept the Blue Devils at bay, keeping the game at 17-7 going into halftime.

Out of the break, Duke’s offense picked up right where they left off in the first half. Leonard led the Blue Devils right down the field, including two 20+ yards completions. On the edge of the red zone, Leonard swung a screen over to Jordan Moore, who took it all the way inside the five. No. 13 would cap off the drive with a touchdown, and Duke would jump back out to a 17-point lead.

On the ensuing possession, Porter picked up 25 yards on the ground, but Northwestern stalled at midfield, bringing the punting unit out on the field once again. As soon as Duke got the ball, it went right back down the field. Leonard, with a defender draped around his legs, somehow launched a 28 pass to Calhoun to continue the drive. The Blue Devils ran the ball down NU’s throat, and Leonard scampered in for his second TD on the ground, putting the nail in the coffin for the game with a 31-7 Duke lead.

On the ensuing Northwestern possession, the ‘Cats moved the ball down the field, aided by a Duke unsportsmanlike penalty, and a fourth down conversion to Johnson kept the drive alive, and Bryce Kirtz hauled in a 20-yard reception to put the Wildcats deep into the red zone. Despite threatening, Northwestern was unable to find the endzone and came away empty-handed.

Duke punted on its next drive; however, Bryant gave it right back with an interception, on fourth down, deep in Northwestern territory. The Blue Devils, playing with their second string, capitalized on the turnover. Peyton Jones waltzed into the end zone untouched, as Duke piled on to make it a 38-7 game. Both teams pulled their starters, and Brendan Sullivan led NU down the field and found his way into the end zone to close the game. Duke took one final knee to send the Wildcats packing 38-14.

Northwestern will be back in action next Saturday night, taking on Minnesota at Ryan Field at 6:30 p.m CT. The game will be broadcast on Big Ten Network.