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Third and goal: Run game on both sides will be key for Duke football to defeat Northwestern

Graduate Jordan Waters leads Duke in rushing this year.
Graduate Jordan Waters leads Duke in rushing this year.

Duke football will look to remain undefeated as the team welcomes Northwestern to Wallace Wade Stadium. The Blue Zone has three keys for a Blue Devil victory: 

Establish the run

Through their first two contests, the Blue Devils have established an identity centered around the ground game. They have run the ball 75 times — compared to just 55 pass attempts — totaling 460 yards and seven touchdowns, good for a healthy average of 6.1 yards per carry. However, they will face a tougher test this week against a Northwestern defense that has held both of its first two opponents to under three yards per rush. If Duke can get its backfield trio of Jordan Waters, Jaquez Moore and Jaylen Coleman — who is expected to make his season debut — going early, while also utilizing the legs of junior quarterback Riley Leonard, the offense should be set up for a successful Saturday afternoon. 

Win the trenches

Despite boasting four seniors, Northwestern’s offensive line is not that experienced, returning just two starters from last season. It showed during the Wildcats’ season-opening loss to Rutgers where the O-line gave up five sacks, and they even allowed the largely overmatched UTEP defense get to the quarterback twice last week. On the other hand, the Blue Devil defensive line is extremely experienced, bringing back all contributors from last season, and Duke has a pair of sacks in each game so far this year. The veteran defensive front should be able to wreak havoc against Northwestern and make life difficult for quarterback Ben Bryant during passing situations.

No fly zone

Five Wildcats have attempted a pass on offense already this season, and Bryant has had some early struggles. The veteran graduate transfer, who is playing for his third school after stints at Cincinnati and Eastern Michigan, has completed just 58.5% of his passes with a paltry 5.4 yards per attempt. Life won’t get any easier at Wallace Wade Stadium this Saturday, as the Blue Devil secondary has been lights out so far this year, collecting three interceptions and holding both opposing teams under five yards per pass attempt. For reference, only one Division 1 football program finished with under five yards per attempt last year. If Duke’s defensive backs can keep up their tight coverage, it will be a long day for the Northwestern offense. 

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