Breaking it down: Cats have something to prove at Duke
Who: Duke vs. Northwestern
When: Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET
Where: Wallace Wade Stadium, Duke
Spread: Duke -3.5
Matchup to watch: Shaun Wilson vs. Ifeadi Odenigbo
Hmmmm, funny I should pick this matchup to focus on. Maybe it has something to do with the trash talk the two exchanged this week about each other’s teams. Odenibgo said he expected a shutout and Wilson didn’t go for that. For Northwestern to meet Odenigbo’s expectations, of course, it’ll have to shut down Wilson and the Duke tailbacks. Wilson is actually the Blue Devils’ leading receiver in the first two games, so he’ll likely be in there on passing downs to protect against Odenigbo’s pass rush. They might not have a Brian Bosworth/Bo Jackson showdown, but if and when these two square off, there could be some extra juice.
Thing I’m excited for: Clayton Thorson’s first road start
The Cats figure to rely heavily on the run game to control the clock. With a back like Justin Jackson, they’d be foolish not to. At some point, Northwestern will have to rely on their freshman quarterback to make a big third down conversion. Will Pat Fitzgerald elect to take some shots deep and test that talented Duke secondary? Or will he try to get Thorson out of the pocket so he can use his mobility? Northwestern has been so solid largely because of its success on third down. A 56-percent conversion rate is nothing to scoff at. If Thorson continues that, he won’t look very much like a freshman making his first road start.
Number to remember: 8
That’s how many penalties Northwestern has in 2015. Pat Fitzgerald’s team has epitomized discipline so far. At Ryan Field, that’s a little bit easier to manage. Playing in an ACC stadium will be a different challenge for the Wildcats to keep their focus. Pre-snap penalties can’t happen for a team that wants to move the chains by running the football. Northwestern can’t afford to dig its way out of holes, because obvious pass situations are when the Blue Devils are at their best. Tensions are sure to be a little high coming into this one, especially for a Northwestern team that feels it still has something to prove. Taking the same disciplined approach will be crucial if the Wildcats want to get a statement victory in Durham.
Prediction: Duke 17, Northwestern 14
I’d be surprised if either team got on any sort of offensive roll in this one. Duke has a slew of downfield threats — seven of which already have a catch for more than 20 yards — that will be unlike anything the Cats have seen this year. I think Thomas Sirk is able to get a late downfield shot that puts the Blue Devils over the hump. I’m drinking the Northwestern Kool-Aid, but I’m putting it on ice Saturday.