Rapid Recap: Duke 31, Northwestern 23


Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer

Junior running back Evan Hull is wrestled to the ground by Duke defenders. Hull had a career day receiving, but it wasn’t enough to lift the Cats to victory.

Alex Cervantes, Daily Senior Staffer

Duke played spoiler to Northwestern’s true home opener Saturday, earning its fourth consecutive win over the Wildcats by a tally of 31-23.

After NU’s Jekyll-and-Hyde performance last season in Durham, a slow start at Ryan Field all but did coach Pat Fitzgerald’s side in. Down three touchdowns under a minute into the second quarter, the hole was too big to climb out of. Despite a tremendous display from junior running back Evan Hull and better all-around performance in the second half, NU (1-1, 1-0 Big Ten) couldn’t make enough plays down the final stretch to earn the victory.

Here are five takeaways from the Cats’ bout with the Blue Devils:


  1. Northwestern suffers a bit of a hangover from Nebraska win

Entering the contest with Duke (2-0, 0-0 ACC), NU was apparently still coming off the high of the statement victory over Nebraska in Ireland. The Cats had a bye week sandwiched between the Europe matchup and the showdown with the Blue Devils, and Chicago’s Big Ten team showed a bit of rust early. The defense struggled early, with Duke capping off each of its first three drives with touchdowns. Conversely, NU didn’t get on the board until its fourth drive. Hull didn’t miss a beat though, continuing his string of spectacular September performances as a Cat, recording 250 yards of total offense and two touchdowns. Duke defensive back Brandon Johnson’s interception with 4:23 to play in the final quarter seemed to seal the game for the visitors, until a Hull fumble ended the game for good.

  1. Duke ground and aerial attack punishes NU defense in first quarter

In the opening 15 mins and 33 seconds, the Blue Devils’ offense eviscerated and picked apart a Jim O’Neil NU defense that looked like a shell of its Ireland self. It took Duke just six plays to drive 77 yards down the field for the first score of the game, a 16-yard Jaylen Coleman rushing touchdown. After a Cats missed field goal, Blue Devil running back Jordan Waters burst through a hole for a 42-yard touchdown. An opening 14-0 lead from Mike Elko’s squad was eerily similar to the cataclysmic first quarter showing from NU in Durham just a year ago. Such a reality was only exacerbated by the Blue Devils quickly punching in for a third rushing touchdown 33 seconds into the second quarter. In all, Duke finished with 247 yards of total offense in the first quarter and change, and O’Neil was left scrambling for a band-aid to stop the bleeding.

  1. NU claws back into game courtesy of Hilinski and Hull

Facing a daunting three-touchdown deficit, the Cats’ dynamic pairing of quarterback Ryan Hilinski and Hull proved vital for the offense once again. After connecting five times for 55 yards in the Nebraska win, the duo eclipsed that total by the end of the first half. Hull hauled in all six targets for 73 yards, with 71 of those coming as yards after the catch. Mirroring his early efforts in Dublin, Hilinski completed nine of his first 10 passes, but connected on just five of the next 13. The Orange, California, native finished the half with 168 yards through the air and a 61-percent completion rate. Hull, meanwhile, added 37 rushing yards and a touchdown on 12 carries in the opening half as NU went into the intermission down 21-10. The recipe for success in the third quarter? Right back to Hull and Hilinski. With the quarter winding to a close and facing a fourth-and-3, Hilinski connected with his running back for the ninth time on the day and Hull did the rest, running past several Blue Devil defenders for a 39-yard touchdown. The Cats would fail the ensuing two-point conversion, but a Hilinski touchdown throw to wide receiver Donny Navarro III with just under six minutes to play in the fourth quarter cut the Duke advantage to five points. 

  1. Cats defense flips script, comes up with massive stops in third quarter

After getting bulldozed in the opening quarter of action, NU’s defense made several key plays throughout the third period to keep the game within reach. The Blue Devils opened the second half with a commanding drive deep into the red zone before defensive back Garnett Hollis Jr. picked off a Riley Leonard pass in the end zone. Just five minutes later, following a Hilinski fumble, O’Neil’s defense held its ground. A first down conversion plus a facemask penalty on defensive end Adetomiwa Adebawore put the Blue Devils inside the Cats’ 30-yard line. NU promptly forced a three-and-out and Duke kicker Charlie Ham missed his first field goal attempt of the game. 

  1. Luke Akers finds a worthy adversary

What would Big Ten football be without punters? NU’s Akers, who earned conference Special Teams Player of the Week honors for his tremendous Week 0 showing against the Cornhuskers, found a worthy opponent in Duke punter Porter Wilson. The pair combined for four total punts through the opening 30 minutes, with the Blue Devil just edging out the Cat by six yards of distance — both registered one punt of at least 50 yards. Akers, however, was able to pin the Blue Devils inside 15 yards after some help from his special teams coverage unit.

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Twitter: @CervantesPAlex