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Football hopes to run wild on Northwestern

While much of the Triangle area will blame Hurricane Isabel for tardiness and absences in the work force, the Duke football team (2-1) lost no practice time in its preparations for its game against Northwestern (1-2) Saturday at 2 p.m. in Wallace Wade Stadium. 


The team began its workout at 7 a.m. in the rain Thursday to avoid the peak of the storm and made no compromises to its scheduled drills. The Blue Devils worked on special teams' play, and head coach Carl Franks said the team responded "pretty good" to practicing at dawn. 


"We have very limited field space because [Wallace Wade] is the only one that drains," Franks said. 


The new Yoh Football Center, which has a 50-yard indoor field, was not used because the artificial meadow is only 15 yards wide. The center is primarily used for agility work in the off season. 


The Blue Devils are working especially hard to add to this year's two-game winning streak with a win over struggling Wildcats this weekend. Northwestern began the season on a hot-streak; it defeated Kansas 28-20 and led Air Force 21-7 through three quarters. But the last five periods for the Wildcats have been atrocious, giving up 15 unanswered points in a 22-21 loss to Air Force and losing to Miami of Ohio in a 44-14 debacle. 


Northwestern head football coach Randy Walker, however, is confident the Wildcats will soon be back in full form. 


"The big challenge this week is to kind of get back on the can only feel sorry for yourself for so long," Walker said. "You need to bounce back and respond, and that's what we're looking for on the football field. I have every confidence that we'll get back to how we started this thing out." 


The Wildcats loss to Miami Saturday must be qualified with the fact that Northwestern had injuries to arguably its two most important players: Quarterback Brett Basanez and running back Jason Wright. 


The Blue Devils will especially concentrate on Wright, as he is widely considered one of the top halfbacks in the country. Wright will be somewhat slowed by a sore hamstring, but there is no doubt that the Diamond Bar, Calif., native will play this week. 


Although there is no denying Wright's talent, many of his 108 yards per game can be attributed to the fourth-heaviest offensive line in Division I-A football. The line is led by Zach Strief, who measures a mammoth 6-foot-7, 335 pounds.

"They're offensive line is big, strong and mean," Franks said. 


Basanez, who is averaging 193 passing yards a game, is also expected to play this weekend, and Walker said he would not be surprised if his quarterback has a break-out game. 


"I think he is a resilient guy," Walker said. "I've shared with him my confidence in him. I think he'll bounce back." 


Duke, on the other hand, is trying to continue to play well after winning back-to-back games. Offensively, running back Chris Douglas is leading the ACC in rushing by more than 20 yards per game, and redshirt freshman quarterback Mike Schneider is improving daily. 


Defensively, the Blue Devils are giving up fewer passing yards than any other ACC squad, and safety Terrell Smith and linebacker Ryan Fowler are among the top 10 leading tacklers in the soon-to-be-expanded conference. 


The Blue Devils will also be looking to avenge their 26-21 loss to Northwestern in Evanston last season. The Blue Devils led for much of the game before a fourth quarter collapse. 


"I just remember [the Duke-Northwestern game last year] as being a really winnable game," Duke offensive lineman Drew Strojny said. "It's one of those things. But of course it's two different football teams from last year. We just want to come out and really get a win." 



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