In a rematch of last year’s 31-23 victory, No. 21 Duke welcomes Northwestern for a Week 3 matchup Saturday. Ahead of the game, the Blue Zone looks at a key player on each team that could mean the difference:
Duke: Jordan Waters
With Duke’s dominant Week 2 win against Lafayette, the Blue Devils proved that their unexpected Week 1 upset against Clemson wasn’t purely luck. After finishing the first quarter tied 7-7 with the Leopards, Duke was able to pick up steam and play through a rainy second half to eventually win 42-7.
With momentum going into Week 3, the 21st-ranked Blue Devils will look to graduate student running back Jordan Waters to effectively penetrate the Wildcats’ defense. Waters sealed Duke’s Week 1 win with a fourth quarter touchdown, and in Week 2 against Lafayette, the Fairmont, N.C., native accounted for 112 of the Blue Devils’ 261 rushing yards and added in two touchdowns. His Week 3 success will be crucial for Duke to outscore Northwestern and continue to 3-0 on the season.
The preseason All-ACC running back is set to be head coach Mike Elko’s primary weapon in the team’s 2023 rush attack, but he established himself last season. Last year’s contest between the Blue Devils and the Wildcats ended up being Waters’ biggest game up to that point, as he finished with two touchdowns and 91 yards. This year, Waters is again poised to run over Northwestern, with a returning offensive line and a high usage rate thus far.
If Waters is able to recreate last season’s success against the Wildcats and establish the ground game, Duke will be too much for Northwestern to handle.
Northwestern: Xander Mueller
The Wildcats recently ended their 12-game losing streak with a Week 2 win against UTEP, earning their first win under head coach David Braun. Northwestern was able to limit the Miners to just one touchdown, outscoring them 38-7.
While the Wildcats led in points, the team trailed in time of possession and first downs. If Northwestern wants to leave Durham with a win, it will have to successfully neutralize the Blue Devils’ offense. Lafayette had a hard time limiting Duke’s running backs in Week 2, allowing four rushing touchdowns and 261 total rushing yards. If the Wildcats fail to eliminate the Blue Devils’ rush progress, they may suffer the same fate as the Leopards.
Linebacker Xander Mueller will play a crucial part in stopping Duke and Waters’ rush attack and limiting their scoring opportunities. The senior from Wheaton, Ill., ranked fifth in solo tackles in the Big Ten and led his team in interceptions last season. Mueller displayed a solid performance in his last meeting with the Blue Devils, totaling seven tackles.
These skills will prove useful both on the ground and in the air, as Mueller will also be tasked with containing junior quarterback Riley Leonard. Leonard, coming off a perfect 12-for-12 completion percentage in Week 2, will be a focal point for the Northwestern defense.
A standout performance from Mueller in Week 3 could hamper the Blue Devils’ offense and work to level the playing field for the Wildcats to pull off a stunner of their own.
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