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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: Braun looks to find consistency, move forward with Big Ten West play on the horizon

Daily file photo by Micah Sandy
Senior defensive back Garnett Hollis Jr. watches on from the sideline.

Two days after then-No. 21 Duke diminished Northwestern’s trip to Wallace Wade Stadium, interim head coach David Braun took the podium at Walter Athletics Center on Monday, looking to place his team’s last effort on the backburner.

After taking Sunday off, the Wildcats had plenty of time to reflect on a game that Duke appeared to control from start to finish. Blue Devils’ quarterback Riley Leonard dominated through the air and on the ground, while Duke’s firm defensive unit seldom let NU find its footing.

“Everyone — starting with me — did not go down to Durham and play our best football,” Braun said. “It’s something that we used as a growth opportunity this morning.”

For the third consecutive game, the ‘Cats surrendered a score on their opponent’s opening drive. Unlike the team’s sole victory over UTEP, it failed to respond on the ensuing offensive possession. 

The slow start allowed Duke to record the contest’s first 17 points — a hole far too deep against such an elite defense and punishing running game.

“When we pride ourselves on fundamentals and technique … our demeanor of play did not show up on Saturday,” Braun said. “In our two opportunities to play on the road so far this year, we have not started fast, we’ve not played well collectively.”

Graduate student quarterback Ben Bryant showed spurts of promise, but the sixth-year signal caller completed just 17-of-34 passes for 123 yards, throwing one touchdown and one interception.

His QBR of 25.2 ranks 122nd of all eligible Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks this season.

Despite Bryant’s early season struggles, Braun reiterated his confidence in the team’s starter.

“What we see in practice is a really dynamic quarterback that is an absolute weapon with his talent and his accuracy that commands the offense,” Braun said. “The level of consistency that we see in practice is what needs to show up on gameday moving forward.”

An old adage goes “special teams make special teams,” and the former North Dakota State defensive coordinator fielded several questions about his specialists and return units.

As for the punt team, Braun said that senior punter Hunter Renner will be starter for the remainder of the year. He beat out senior punter Luke Akers, who handled the majority of the team’s punting duties last season.

Braun also said the punt return team needs to get going for NU to succeed down the stretch. He added that players like junior defensive back Theran Johnson are straining and giving maximum effort whenever their number is called, but that effort must translate into more consistency.

With a matchup against Minnesota on tap Saturday night in Ryan Field, the Cats don’t have the luxury to recuperate before their divisional slate commences.

“(We’re) shifting into Big Ten West football, returning to Ryan Field against a very physical opponent that understands what it takes to win,” Braun said. “There is no doubt in our mind that there’s quite a challenge in front of us, but it will certainly embody what Big Ten West football is all about.”

NU will look to turn the tide of three consecutive losses to the Golden Gophers this Saturday, but the team will have to produce against an imposing rushing team spearheaded by freshman running back Darius Taylor.

As Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck’s group vies to hit the ground running and row the boat through Evanston, Braun said the Cats are excited about the challenge.

“We have to find a way to get these guys out of their comfort zone,” Braun said.

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Twitter: @jakeepste1n

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