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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Football: Northwestern’s inability to stop No. 21 Duke and QB Riley Leonard on the ground leads to 38-14 loss

Angeli Mittal/The Daily Northwestern
Northwestern players run out of the locker room in last year’s matchup versus Duke. In Saturday’s defeat to the Blue Devils, the Cats’ defense had trouble stopping Riley Leonard on the ground.

To build off of last week’s momentous win, Northwestern (1-2, 0-1 Big Ten) needed to continue to stop the run. 

Unfortunately for interim head coach David Braun and the Wildcats, the defense had no answer for No. 21 Duke’s (3-0, 1-0 ACC) run game, surrendering 268 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground in Saturday’s 38-14 defeat.

In last week’s victory over UTEP, the Cats defense’s ability to limit the Miners’ rushing attack was instrumental towards their success. NU surrendered only 104 rushing yards and zero rushing touchdowns. 

When the Blue Devils upset No. 9 Clemson on Sept. 4, quarterback Riley Leonard led the way with 98 rush yards. Similarly the Cats couldn’t contain Leonard on the ground on Saturday. He  imposed his will on the very first possession by mixing in a few successful passes with a nine-yard scramble. A few more similar drives throughout the first quarter helped the Blue Devils continue to move the chains.

Making matters worse, NU had Leonard where they wanted him in the backfield, but couldn’t take him down, leading to big gains. Early in the second quarter, the Cats looked like they were about to force a fourth down, but Leonard evaded multiple NU defenders behind the line of scrimmage and ran for 33 yards. By the end of the drive, Leonard’s run was critical in Duke adding a field goal to their lead, increasing it to 17.

While NU’s offense came alive late in the first half, the defense’s inability to stop Leonard grew in the third quarter, dimmering hopes of a comeback. In the Cats first two defensive possessions to start the second half, the quarterback had multiple double-digit rushes and two short-yardage rushing touchdowns. 

NU’s defense struggled to get off the field after halftime, allowing the Blue Devils to have possession for nearly 11 minutes in the third quarter. This was a similar problem they faced versus Rutgers, who had possession for the majority of the first half.

By the end of the afternoon, Leonard finished with 97 rushing yards on 13 attempts. His 7.5 yards per carry was the highest by any rusher.

Looking ahead to next Saturday when NU returns home to resume conference play against Minnesota (2-1, 1-0 Big Ten), limiting the run game must be a point of emphasis, especially to opposing quarterbacks. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @aayushyagarwal7

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