X-Factor: Duke vs Northwestern
With Northwestern coming to Wallace Wade Stadium this week, the Blue Devils will try to get revenge for last season's 24-13 loss and start the season out 2-0.
Every week throughout the football season, the Blue Zone will break down a player on each team who could be the difference-maker in the upcoming contest.
Duke: Defensive tackle Mike Ramsay
Northwestern boasts one of the strongest running backs in the nation in senior Justin Jackson, and the Blue Devils will need their defensive linemen to stand their ground in order to contain the ground game. Duke had success stopping the run in Evanston last season, limiting the Wildcats to 86 rushing yards, but the Blue Devils’ defensive effort was not enough to earn the victory. Although the redshirt senior defensive tackle did not make many headlines against Northwestern in 2016, a solid performance from Ramsay would go a long way following the graduation of A.J. Wolf.
Ramsay had just one tackle against the Wildcats last season, tied for his season low, but the Smyrna, Ga., native seemed to find his rhythm in the following six contests, during which he accumulated 22 of his 30 tackles on the season. Ramsay’s best performance came against Virginia Tech, when he tied his career high with seven tackles, including two for a loss. The Blue Devils held the Hokies to just 192 yards in the air that day, and will need Ramsay to help apply similar pressure on Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson, who torched Duke for 320 yards and three touchdowns a year ago.
Northwestern: Wide receiver Macan Wilson
Wilson is always a threat with his ability to get downfield in a hurry and could pose a tough challenge for a young Blue Devil secondary. Duke allowed more than 16 yards per catch last season and has spent a large chunk of practice time trying to get the secondary on the same page. Wilson tied for the team best with 13.9 yards per catch last season and found success against Duke when he gained 57 yards on just three receptions. With last year’s leading receiver Austin Carr out of the picture, the Wildcats will rely more heavily on Wilson’s ability to make big plays. Wilson had success last week against Nevada, gaining 77 yards on three receptions, and will likely continue to run downfield against the Blue Devils Saturday.