Northwestern University: a school known for elite academics, a beautiful campus situated right on Lake Michigan, harsh winters and...football?

After a drought of 64 years, head coach Pat Fitzgerald led his team to a bowl victory in 2012, as the Wildcats outlasted Mississippi State 34-20 in the Gator Bowl. This was no flash in the pan—Fitzgerald’s squads have fared well of late, winning three bowl games and finishing ranked in the final AP poll three times in the last six years.

For a fourth consecutive season, Duke will take Northwestern, its second FBS opponent of 2018. The Wildcats’ nadir of 2017 came in its embarrassing 41-17 loss to the Blue Devils, as their only other defeats came at the hands of Wisconsin and Penn State, who finished the season ranked No. 7 and No. 8, respectively.

One man’s famine is another man’s feast, and Duke surely left that same game satiated. Quarterback Daniel Jones had what was likely the best performance of his career, as he tallied 413 total yards and four touchdowns. Even more impressive was the Blue Devil defense, which held Northwestern to a mere 181 total yards. Justin Jackson, who graduated in the spring as the tenth-leading rusher in Division I history, was held to just 18 yards on the ground, the lowest total of his illustrious career.

Despite Jackson’s departure, the Wildcats should maintain a strong rushing attack, led by sophomore Jeremy Larkin and four returning starters on the offensive line. Larkin saw an increased workload down the stretch, and averaged 65.6 rushing yards on 7.6 yards per attempt in Northwestern’s final five games.

“Larkin is a different kind of back [than Jackson],” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. “He’s really elusive, with really quick feet, [and he] scares you in that way, how he can make you miss.”

The Cincinnati, Ohio, native started off the 2018 season with a bang, with 143 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the Wildcats’ 31-27 triumph over Purdue. 

In the air, quarterbacks Clayton Thorson—who tore his right ACL last December—and T.J. Green split reps in the season opener. Thorson, Northwestern’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns, and Green are currently listed as co-starters for Saturday’s game.

“[Northwestern] threw it a little bit more with Thorson for obvious reasons—he’s a veteran starter and a big, 6-foot-4 guy,” Cutcliffe said. “But don’t think for a second that Green can’t throw the football. We have to focus on pressuring the quarterback no matter who is back there in order to be successful.”

The Wildcats were undoubtedly stronger on the defensive side of the ball last year, and ranked 20th in the nation in points allowed per game. Six members of a strong starting front seven returned to campus this fall, including All-Big Ten defensive end Joe Gaziano, who led the team with nine sacks.

“They’re going to be faster, bigger and stronger than Army,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s going to come down technique, leverage, hands and quick feet. When you’re playing equally gifted players, you have to find your edge in different places.”

The two teams will take the field Saturday at noon in Evanston, Ill.