Third and goal: Duke football vs. Northwestern
Fresh off a 60-7 beatdown against crosstown rival N.C. Central, Duke will welcome a disciplined Northwestern team to Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday afternoon in what should be a much more challenging matchup. The Blue Devils dropped both contests against Northwestern the last two seasons, and are now looking for redemption. Here are three keys to Saturday’s contest:
Contain Justin Jackson
Northwestern’s offense features work-horse running back Justin Jackson, who is no stranger to head coach David Cutcliffe's Blue Devils. This will be the third consecutive year that the senior has faced Duke, carrying the ball 35 times in 2015, and 28 times last year. There is no reason to believe that this year will be any different, with Jackson carrying a heavy workload in a win over Nevada last week, racking up 151 total yards on 35 touches. It will be crucial for Duke linebackers Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys to contain Jackson, who finished 13th in the nation in rushing yards last year.
Pressure the quarterback
One of the few holes in a fairly steady Northwestern offense is its pass blocking. Although Wildcats quarterback Clayton Thorson threw only nine interceptions all of last year, his offensive line allowed 39 sacks, the 12th-worst total in the nation. Duke is not likely to see many mistakes from a Northwestern offense that rarely turns the ball over, but there will certainly be opportunities for the Blue Devils to put the pressure on Thorson. With Thorson’s ability to pick apart teams through the air, Duke’s secondary would be boosted by increased heat on the quarterback.
Maintain a balanced offensive approach
Duke torched the N.C. Central defense on the ground last week, rushing the ball for four touchdowns in just the first half. Redshirt freshman Brittain Brown had a strong debut, accumulating 120 yards on the ground, with veteran Shaun Wilson adding 59 yards. Although Northwestern has a far more talented defense than the Eagles, they struggled last week containing Nevada on the ground, allowing 142 rushing yards on just 26 carries—or 5.5 yards per carry. If Duke can get similar production on the ground this week, then things should open for quarterback Daniel Jones in the air against a Northwestern secondary that allowed more than 3,000 passing yards just a year ago.