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

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

The Daily Northwestern

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Rapid Recap: No. 21 Duke 38, Northwestern 14

Daily file photo by Angeli Mittal
Redshirt senior tight end Thomas Gordon celebrates a reception in 2022’s matchup with the Blue Devils.

A week removed from a 38-7 trouncing of UTEP, Northwestern walked into Wallace Wade Stadium as double-digit underdogs on Saturday, looking to shock No. 21 Duke and put the college football world on notice.

Although interim head coach David Braun said the Wildcats (1-2, 0-1 Big Ten) play their best brand of football against stacked odds on Monday, the Blue Devils (3-0, 1-0 ACC) made for a dismal Durham display in a 38-14 NU loss.

After Duke running back Jordan Waters jolted into open space for a 24-yard touchdown to open the scoring in the first quarter, the Blue Devils controlled both sides of the ball to build a 17-0 lead early into the second quarter.

Despite a slow offensive start, graduate student quarterback Ben Bryant led a sustained drive as the first half trickled down and connected with senior wide receiver AJ Henning in the right corner of the endzone for a 14-yard touchdown, settling the halftime score at 17-7.

Coming off the break, Duke quarterback Riley Leonard called his own number for a pair of rushing touchdowns, extending the Blue Devil edge to 31-7 in the third quarter.

With the result all but settled, Duke coach Mike Elko subbed off Leonard and much of his first team offense. Meanwhile Braun subbed in sophomore quarterback Brendan Sullivan, who lept into the endzone for a late fourth quarter touchdown.

Here’s five takeaways from NU’s loss at Duke.


1. Another week, another score surrendered on the opening defensive drive

While the Cats received the game’s first possession, the offense couldn’t replicate its quickfire ability from last week, going three-and-out.

However, a similar defensive trend transpired for a third consecutive contest.

Once the ball changed hands, the Blue Devils met little resistance as they marched down the field on a methodical, run-heavy drive.

Leonard displayed his dual-threat ability, completing two-of-three passes and executing a nine-yard scamper, before Waters blew by NU to cap off a six-play, 56-yard touchdown drive.

2. Punting becomes a primary concern

Entering the year, many expected senior punter Luke Akers to win his positional battle, but senior punter Hunter Renner got the week one nod and retained the starting role ever since.

After the Cats elected not to roll the dice on a fourth and short yardage scenario less than two minutes into the game, Renner trotted out and dinked a 22-yarder, setting up the Blue Devils with pristine field position on their own 44-yard line.

Sure enough, NU’s opponents swiftly capitalized off the short field.

Renner’s next effort wouldn’t fare much better, as he hooked a 29-yard punt into Duke territory.

With two punts combining for 51 yards, the senior left much to be desired early on, but he cleaned up his average later on — notably booting a 46-yarder that downed inside the 20.

3. Jack Lausch continues to carve out utility role

After sophomore quarterback Jack Lausch scored his first career touchdown and rushed for 53 yards against UTEP last week, Braun was adamant that the coaching staff needed to find ways to get the ball in the Chicago native’s hands.

Lausch didn’t have to wait long to hear his number called on Saturday, as he featured — lining up under center and in a receiver role — several times in the first half.

On the Cats’ 15-play scoring drive, Bryant and Lausch both took snaps, helping break down the Blue Devils seemingly impenetrable defensive unit.

As the season progresses, the sophomore quarterback will likely see more snaps, as the coaching staff looks to get him much-needed experience against different defensive looks.

4. Leonard has his way throughout the day

In a stacked quarterback class, Duke’s signal caller has received plenty of buzz as a potential day-two pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.

While his numbers through two games don’t jump off the page — tallying just two total touchdowns — the Alabama native propelled his team to a week one upset versus then-No. 9 Clemson and hasn’t looked back since.

Saturday proved no different.

Regardless of whether he attacked through the air or on the ground, Leonard sliced and diced through a defense that had just produced three quarters of scoreless football in its last game.

He appeared unphased by NU’s pressure, consistently finding holes in zone coverage and evading tacklers to turn would-be negative plays into improvised runs for first down yardage throughout his three quarters of action.

5. Big Ten West play begins next week for Braun’s squad

The Cats don’t have the luxury of sulking over Saturday’s defeat, as they open up divisional play next Saturday night at Ryan Field.

Under the lights, NU will look to knock off Minnesota for the first time since 2018, where the Cats pounded the Golden Gophers in a 24-14 road win.

With both teams coming off battles against non-conference top-25 opponents, next week’s contest allows the two foes to shift their focus toward the Big Ten West standings.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @jakeepste1n

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Football: What to Watch For: Northwestern prepares for Durham duel at No. 21 Duke
Football: Top performances by NU O-Line and Tight Ends versus UTEP will be even more important against Duke
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