In two games this season, the most obvious thing for Duke football is this: Mataeo Durant must be fed. The senior running back has been nothing short of dominant this season, with 296 yards (sixth in FBS) and six touchdowns (first in FBS) in just two games. Durant is a star on this team and has a chance to continue his excellence this coming weekend against Northwestern.
In their game against Michigan State, Northwestern was dominated on the ground by running back Kenneth Walker III. Walker produced 264 yards and four touchdowns, a mark comparable to Durant’s first game against Charlotte. In total, Michigan State put up a remarkable 326 yards rushing in the game. In their second game, however, the Northwestern rush defense was far more effective, allowing just 31 yards on the ground to Indiana State. Given that these totals are polar opposites, it will be interesting to see which defense shows up to play the Blue Devils.
Northwestern has been effective in its pass coverage, however. In both games this season, it has allowed under 200 yards from opposing quarterbacks. With Duke’s pass game still looking to find its bearings, the safe bet is for the Blue Devils to continue their ground-and-pound strategy and feed the star running back out of Plum Branch, S.C.
Offensively, Northwestern would appear to be much more of a threat in the air than it is on the ground. In its game against Michigan State, quarterback Hunter Johnson threw for an impressive 284 yards and three touchdowns against a defense that was able to hold its next opponent, Youngstown State, to just 137 yards passing. Johnson's ability to get the ball out quickly and hit receivers deep downfield was put on display against the Spartans, and has the potential to be a threat against Duke.
At times, Northwestern has struggled with its pass protection, allowing Johnson to be sacked six times thus far. Duke, on the other hand, only has one total sack this season, coming from defensive end R.J. Oben. The Blue Devils suffered a lot of losses in their pass rush this offseason, so it will be important to find something to build off of as the season progresses. As seen from the film against North Carolina A&T, too much time was given to the opposing quarterback to make reads and pick out the open man. The upcoming game against Northwestern could be the unit's opportunity to regroup and put pressure on the quarterback. Duke will need to put pressure on this team if it hopes to keep their scoring down.
As the Blue Devils look to build off of last week’s victory, they will need to be extra sharp against this Northwestern team. The Wildcats have shown vastly different performances in each of their two games, and Duke must be prepared for anything when the game kicks off this Saturday.
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