For head coach David Cutcliffe and the rest of the Blue Devils, it might seem like they are looking in the mirror come Tuesday's Quick Lane Bowl.

Duke and Northern Illinois average nearly the same yardage per game, surrender the same amount of points per game and rely on virtually the same offensive philosophy.

Ground and pound. Establish the running game, and then try to find the perfect time to dial up an opportunistic passing play.

“You’ve got to bring it. They’re a physical team, and that’s the tale of the tape,” All-American redshirt sophomore linebacker Joe Giles-Harris said. “We like playing physical football.”

The Huskies will be down one of their key players, though, against a Duke defense that will be getting a major reinforcement. Redshirt senior running back Jordan Huff will miss the contest, as he is preparing to undergo ankle surgery, and the Blue Devils are expected to welcome back linebacker Ben Humphreys, who has missed the past two games with a leg injury that he sustained during Duke’s loss at Army Nov. 11.

Huff had been the motor for the Northern Illinois running game throughout the year, racking up 740 yards and four touchdowns on a sterling 5.8 yards per carry. Benefitting from starting quarterback Marcus Childers’ dual-threat ability—Childers ranks second on the team with 454 rushing yards—Huff took advantage of the Huskies’ complex motions at the line of scrimmage to run for his career-best total, just surpassing last season’s output of 703 yards.

Although Huff returned for the final two games of the year, he missed the prior three games, and a trio of tailbacks—Marcus Jones, Tre Harbison and Tommy Mister—received the bulk of the carries in his absence.

At quarterback, Childers often gets breathers from redshirt sophomore Daniel Santacaterina, who functions as more of a pocket passer. Not known for his running abilities—Santacaterina has lost more yards than gained on the ground—he has found success through the air, completing 63.9 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns, which complements Childers’ 15 scores.

Although Northern Illinois’ offense is no pushover, its defense is why it is known as a power football team. Led by consensus All-American defensive end Sutton Smith, the Huskies only allow 328.0 yards per game, which ranks 18th-best in the nation.

“We’ve seen that their defense has the ability to disrupt the line of scrimmage, put pressure on the passing game as well as the running game,” Duke starting quarterback Daniel Jones said.

Smith has amassed a whopping 28.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks this season, his first as a starter. Despite his size at just 6-feet and 225 pounds, Smith has found ways to dominate while also setting up opportunities for his teammates, as three other players have at least 8.5 tackles for loss this year.

“Sutton’s an incredible defensive player,” Cutcliffe said. “Why? He just makes plays. He’s just strong, he’s got great hands [and] he’s a great pass rusher. Any one player to have 28.5 tackles for loss is unheard of.”

The Huskies have set their pass rush up for success with a stiff run defense on early downs, as they allow only 2.8 yards per carry and have given up the ninth-fewest rushing yards this season. Veteran linebackers Bobby Jones and Jawuan Johnson—who also leads the team with five interceptions—have been the primary stoppers, racking up 97 and 86 tackles, respectively.

To complicate matters, the Blue Devils will be without offensive line coach Marcus Johnson, who accepted the same job at Mississippi State. Although Duke has a veteran line with four upperclassmen, the unit has struggled at times this year, and Jones has felt the pressure, tossing 11 interceptions and taking a handful of big hits as well.

Special teams coach Jim Bridge is expected to take over Johnson’s duties for the game, as he hopes to find the solution to Northern Illinois’ defensive front that no opponent has discovered thus far to lift the Blue Devils to their second bowl win in three seasons.

“’I’ve watched them, and watched them, and watched them trying to find something that we want to attack, and the more I watch, the more impressed I am,” Cutcliffe said.