The Northwestern Wildcats will attempt to pick up their first victory of the season after dropping two-straight, under the lights at Ryan Field against the Duke Blue Devils. The ‘Cats and Blue Devils kick off at 7:00 CST at Ryan Field and our coverage on WNUR Sports begins with the pregame show starting at 6:00.
Here’s how our broadcasters think the ‘Cats will fare against Duke:
Matt McHugh (@mattmcsports27) Duke 20, Northwestern 13
The ‘Cats are bad, but so is Duke so this should be a third consecutive close game for Northwestern. But their injured secondary and struggles in the trenches will be a little too tough to overcome.
Player to Watch: Trae Williams, CB, Northwestern. Williams will be making his first career start in place of the injured Matthew Harris, and the relatively untested corner will need to step up big.
Henrique DaMour (@henrydamour): Northwestern 20, Duke 18
When people talk about the 2008 financial collapse, the term thrown around with the giant banks was that they were “too big to fail.” The same is true for Northwestern this week as a B1G team that has had one of the ugliest two weeks against non-conference opponents maybe ever. Northwestern must win this week, or Ryan Field will burn (or be empty for the next 11 weeks, one of the two).
Player to Watch: Justin Jackson, RB, Northwestern. FEED. THE. BEAST. He had a monster game week 1 against Western Michigan and got way too few touches against Illinois State. If (when) the passing game falls apart, the offensive line needs to give Jackson holes to run through for Northwestern to come away with a win.
If the Wildcats are going to right the ship, it has to start this week. The defense will put together another solid outing while Clayton Thorson mounts several scoring drives with the help of Austin Carr to beat a less than stellar Blue Devil squad.
Player to Watch: Solomon Vault, WR, Northwestern. The all-conference return man had a huge touchdown return last year against Duke, and he could provide the big plays NU’s offense requires right now.
I just can’t see Northwestern getting swept in the non-conference portion of its schedule. Duke has dealt with multiple injuries to major playmakers — including quarterback Thomas Sirk — so the Blue Devils, who Northwestern beat in Durham last season, will be severely shorthanded. The Wildcats have their own injury issues but I think Northwestern can rebound on both sides of the ball after back-to-back disappointing performances.
Player to Watch: Jack Mitchell, K, Northwestern. Mitchell has only attempted one field goal this season, a 33-yarder he shanked in the second quarter of Saturday’s game. As Northwestern lost 9-7 to the Redbirds, that Mitchell miss could have been the difference between a win and a loss. I expect this weekend’s game to be a tight one and it could be decided on Mitchell’s foot.
Michael Stern (@michaeljstern23): Northwestern 17, Duke 16
Northwestern plays a third tight game in three weeks, and finally walks away with a win as luck and experience (Duke’s QB is making his third career start) even out.
Player to Watch: Johnathan Lloyd, WR, Duke. With all the injuries and position changes in the Wildcat secondary, Duke’s receiving core will be expected to produce Saturday. Lloyd, a converted defensive back who tallied eight receptions last week against Wake Forest, will have an opportunity to go up against first-time starter Trae Williams and might make some plays.
Amit Mallik (@upper90shot): Northwestern 24, Duke 19
The ‘Cats grind out a tough early season victory behind a dominant run game and a defense up to the task.
Player to Watch: Connor Mahoney, OG, Northwestern. The senior captain said any resurgence of the much-maligned offensive line starts with him. Can he and his unit take care of one-man breakdowns and pave the way for Justin Jackson to run for over 100 yards?
Tim Hackett (@HacksawTim): Duke 21, Northwestern 17
A few weeks ago, I expected this to be a really intriguing matchup: a solid Duke offense led by talented dual-threat QB Thomas Sirk against a good Northwestern defense hungry to prove after leading the Wildcats to two wins over inferior opponents. Now, neither of those things apply: Thomas Sirk is out for the year and Northwestern lost both of those games. Duke is a decent team, though perhaps even not as good as last year’s team that Northwestern defeated, but the Wildcats have not inspired a lot of confidence lately and Duke could very well pull out this win.
Player to Watch: Clayton Thorson, QB, Northwestern. I don’t want to choose the defensive line every week, so let’s choose someone else who will have a tough matchup. DeVon Edwards and Breon Borders are both great defensive backs, so Thorson will have to be on his game to avoid interceptions and hopefully lead the offense to a consistent performance.
This could truly be the most boring non-conference matchup of two power conference schools in the history of college football.
Player to Watch: Jack Mitchell, K, Northwestern. With the Wildcats’ offense sputtering as much as it has in weeks one and two, this game could very much come down to Mitchell’s right foot. Also, picking a kicker as a player to watch seems fitting for this game.
As you can tell from the score, I have lost all faith in the ‘Cats offense. I expect the defense to play a solid game against Daniel Jones and the rest of the Blue Devils’ offense, but still fall just short.
Player to Watch: Johnathan Lloyd, WR, Duke. Assuming NU’s defense has very little margin for error, stopping the sophomore wideout is critical. Lloyd has been Duke’s best option in the passing game so far this season, and will be an interesting test for the NU secondary.
Sam Brief (@sambrief): Duke 17, Northwestern 13
I see no reason why Northwestern’s offensive line and playcalling struggles stop here. Duke isn’t great, but they’re capable of beating Northwestern in a close one.
Player to Watch: The entire offensive line. They need to step up. It’s been a rough start to the season for this unit.
Northwestern will have to wait another week to turn things around.
Player to Watch: Auston Anderson, RB, Northwestern. With Justin Jackson banged up, the ‘Cats’ other running backs will have to step up.
Austin Miller (@austin_james906) Northwestern: 49 Duke: 0
Mike Krzyzewski ain’t walkin’ through that door.
Player to Watch: Greg Paulus, PG Duke. What’s that? Wrong sport? No… Pretty sure he’s a quarterback too: