Predictions: Northwestern at Duke

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 9.54.15 PMFresh off a blowout win against Eastern Illinois last weekend, the Northwestern Wildcats are a ranked team–No. 23 in the country according to the AP Poll–as they look to remain undefeated tomorrow afternoon in Durham, North Carolina against the Duke Blue Devils (2-0). The game starts at 11:30 AM CST and WNUR Sports’ coverage of the game begins at 10:30 CST on WNUR 89.3 FM or online at

Here are our broadcasters’ predictions for tomorrow’s game as well as their players to watch:

Zach Pereles (@zach_pereles): Duke 20, Northwestern 17.
Boo. Yes, I know I’m ruining all the fun, but Duke has quietly become a solid team under David Cutcliffe and I worry about Clayton Thorson’s ability to avoid interceptions against a ball-hawking Duke secondary. The Blue Devils won’t beat themselves; I don’t see the Wildcats going on the road and winning this one.

Player to watch: Justin Jackson. As always, Northwestern will need to run the ball well, but it’s especially true in this game. Duke has a talented secondary but a weak front seven; Jackson has to exploit that.

Sam Rudnick (@luhtammer): Northwestern 24, Duke 20.
Northwestern’s first road test will come as a ranked team against a pretty good program of late. NU will rely on the running game to smash its way to a victory and remain ranked in the top-25.

Player to watch: Justin Jackson. He is the focal point of the Northwestern offense and will be very important in leading to the Wildcats’ success this weekend. He will help ease the pressure for Thorson on the road.

Ben Goren (@BenG412): Game Broadcaster (no prediction)
Player to watch: Ifeadi Odenigbo. Ifeadi isn’t a starter, yet, but he’s been playing a lot more than his hyper-limited 3rd down role last season, and he’s looked good. He has 2.5 sacks in 2 games and has made some good plays in the run game too. NU will need him to wreak more havoc this weekend.
Ari Ross (@aross50): Northwestern 24, Duke 20.
If Clayton Thorson can continue to limit his mistakes, while Wildcats’ control the game with their rushing attack and defense, Northwestern should be able to come out of Durham with a win. Facing a team that’s scored 92 points in their last two games, albeit against far inferior foes, the Wildcats defense has a tall task ahead stopping Duke dual-threat QB Thomas Sirk.

Player to watch: Anthony Walker. Walker has been impressive the past two games, an absolute monster on NU’s defense. Against Duke, he’ll have the task of stopping Sirk and keeping him from beating NU with his legs.

Jason Dorow (@jasondorow): Northwestern 23, Duke 20.
Duke might be the fastest team Northwestern faces all year, and that could pose issues for a Wildcat secondary that has been unfazed to this point. Justin Jackson and Warren Long should have another great day on the ground though to get NU a narrow victory.

Player to watch: Traveon Henry. The senior safety will have to match up on some wideouts and backs who are much quicker than him. If that leads to big plays, NU could be doomed.

Nick Scoliard (@NickScols): Northwestern 28, Duke 10.
It’s still early in the season, so NU has to prove they deserve to be ranked. Their first road game will be that proving ground, against a Duke team that themselves have not proven much, gaining two wins on cupcake teams. I think Northwestern’s defense will prevail, giving the offense good position to work with, and ultimately dominating the Blue Devils.

Player to watch: Justin Jackson. After last week’s disappointing (well, disappointing for Jackson anyway) performance, I want to see him bounce back and show that he’s here to stay as a dominant Big Ten running back.

Austin Miller (@austin_james906): Duke 27, Northwestern 17.
This game will be a big test for Clayton Thorson and the Northwestern offense. The offense did just enough against Stanford and was untested against Eastern Illinois. I think the offense struggles against Duke, Thorson makes a few mistakes, and the defense is asked to do just a bit too much. Going on the road for the first time will be a big challenge for the Northwestern team.

Player to watch: DeVon Edwards. The Duke safety has four career kickoff returns for touchdowns and averages an impressive 28.6 yards per return. He always seems to make the big play on defense as well, and he will challenge the Northwestern special teams and offense. NU has to contain Edwards on special teams, and if Edwards gets his hands on one of Thorson’s passes, watch out, it could be going the other way.

Will Greer (@willy_nillie): Northwestern 23, Duke 16.
Duke will keep this game close, but Northwestern will take its defensive show on the road and wear down a younger and less battle-tested Blue Devil team.

Player to watch: Thomas Sirk. Sirk, Duke’s junior quarterback, is making just his third career start for the Blue Devils and will have to face the toughest defense he has ever gone up against in college. If NU can limit Sirk’s escapability and force him into a couple of ill-advised throws, the Wildcats will walk out of Wallace Wade Stadium with a big out-of-conference road win

Josh Burton (@josh_burton1): Northwestern 24, Duke 13.
Duke may officially be favored in this game, but the team with more talent is undoubtedly Northwestern. Thomas Sirk and Shaun Wilson are nice weapons for the Blue Devils, but beyond those two, David Cutcliffe doesn’t have many other offensive options, and the stout Wildcats defense can certainly deal with an athletic quarterback and running back. The real question is if Clayton Thorson will be able to take advantage of an inexperienced defense and put points up on the board.

Player to watch: Clayton Thorson. As I said above, the only real unknown in this game is Thorson. Northwestern knows Justin Jackson is going to get his yards on the ground, as does Duke. What neither team knows is how the freshman quarterback will play, as his performance is likely to decide this one.

Michael Stern (@michaeljstern23): Duke 17, Northwestern 16.
This appears to be a Big Ten-ACC Showdown between two even teams: both are breaking in new quarterbacks and have relied on their defenses in the season’s first two weeks. I’ll take the Blue Devils by a hair, as I’m worried about Thorson’s first road start, the offensive line’s health, and the team’s red zone efficiency.

Player to Watch: Max McCaffery. McCaffery, the wide receiver brother of Stanford running back Christian McCaffery, has taken on a bigger role in the Blue Devil offense this season. The Wildcats need to limit big plays from McCaffery and dual-threat quarterback Thomas Sirk to pull out a third straight victory.

John Beers (@JohnWBeers): Northwestern 21, Duke 10.
While Northwestern’s streak of not allowing a touchdown will come to an end, they’ll use the same formula of pounding the ball on the ground and strong defensive play to come out on top. I expect 3+ running backs to see significant action again and the defense to force some key turnovers against the Blue Devils.

Player to Watch: Nick Van Hoose. Van Hoose said in the press conference this week that he expected to get targeted against Duke after not being tested much through the first two games. I expect any balls thrown his direction to be positive plays for the Wildcats and wouldn’t be surprised if he comes down with a key interception… or two.

Max Gelman (@MaxGelman): Northwestern 23, Duke 14.
This is going to be a defensive battle, as Northwestern and Duke rank third and seventh in yards allowed per game, respectively, through the first two weeks of the college football season. I think Mick McCall and the offense pull just enough rabbits out of their hat to catch the Blue Devils off guard and win the Wildcats’ third straight game.
Player to watch: Anthony Walker. Walker has always been a talented player, but so far this season he’s been the linchpin of this Northwestern defense. Look for him to shut down the middle of the field, and don’t be surprised if he has another ten tackles this week.

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