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5 observations and more from Duke football's first half against Northwestern

Redshirt junior running back Jordan Waters helped the Blue Devils get off to a strong start.
Redshirt junior running back Jordan Waters helped the Blue Devils get off to a strong start.

For the second straight game, Duke jumped out to a commanding lead, this time grabbing a 21-0 advantage against Northwestern before the Wildcats rallied to narrow the halftime gap. With 30 minutes to play at Ryan Field, the Blue Devils lead 21-10.

Five observations:

Starting fast: It took the Blue Devils 2:44 on offense to secure their first points of the day. The drive spanned 77 yards and was highlighted by three Riley Leonard completions, including a 23-yard bullet to senior receiver Jalon Calhoun. That set up redshirt junior Jaylen Coleman’s first carry of the day, which he took in for a 16-yard score, putting Duke up 7-0. 

Evan Hull: The Wildcats’ running back was everywhere in the first half, tallying 110 total yards. Hull grabbed Northwestern’s first points of the day in the second quarter, ending the Duke defense’s shutout bid. He is the Wildcats’ leading rusher and receiver, and helped spark their comeback efforts.

Chunk plays: Long plays were plentiful throughout the first half. On Duke’s opening drive, three of the Blue Devils’ six plays went for at least 16 yards. Northwestern returned the favor with three chunk plays of its own—two of which were Hull receptions—before that drive ended with a missed field goal. The long plays have kept the pace quick and the momentum in the Blue Devils’ favor. 

Leading rusher: Coleman is listed as the starting running back on the depth chart, but Jordan Waters led the way in the first half. The redshirt junior tallied 67 yards on 6 carries, but it was his 42-yard touchdown run in the first quarter that set the tone. That score put Duke up 14-0, a lead he would then extend to 21-0 a few minutes later on a three-yard rush. 

Defensive penalties: In the second quarter, the Duke defense committed three penalties on third down. Those penalties resulted in 45 yards for a Northwestern offense that only had 71 first-quarter yards. The first of the three, a defensive pass interference call on graduate student Darius Joiner, set up the Wildcats’ first score of the day. 

By the numbers:

1. 234 yards of offense: In the first quarter alone, Duke recorded 232 yards of offense in just more than six minutes of possession. That trend did not continue; the Blue Devils only gained two yards in the second quarter, but the explosive start was enough to gain the early lead. 

2. 21 unanswered points: The Blue Devils raced out to a 21-0 lead before surrendering their first points of the year in the second quarter. The hot start was reminiscent of Duke’s 21-0 first-quarter lead in last year’s victory against the Wildcats.

3. Leonard’s accuracy: The sophomore continued his impressive start. He was perfect through two drives and ended the half 8-for-11 with 147 yards. His running ability has been less of a factor than it was against Temple, but Leonard has looked sharp through the air. 

A play that mattered:

With the seconds ticking down in the first quarter and the Blue Devils facing a third-and-6 deep in their own end after a false start, it looked like Duke would be forced to punt for the first time Saturday. Leonard had other plans. The quarterback found senior receiver Eli Pancol who, after losing defender Cameron Mitchell, took it 81 yards. It was the longest pass in program history that did not result in a touchdown, but Jordan Waters punched it in two plays later to put the Blue Devils up 21-0. 

Rachael Kaplan | Assistant Blue Zone Editor

Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle’s 118th volume.


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