Game Preview


Duke at Northwestern
Ryan Field
Saturday, Sept. 15.  Time: 7:00 pm CDT
WGN radio internet coverage.

Game Preview: Northwestern vs. Duke
by Jonathan Hodges


Northwestern (2-0) heads into Saturday night's game against Duke (0-2) riding a 3-game winning streak, but that's not the streak everyone will be talking about - instead it will be Duke's 22-game losing streak, especially since NU still holds the dubious I-A/FBS record 34 game streak.  So far this season, Duke had a big loss to Connecticut (although they were in the game for a half) and a relatively close loss to Virginia (a game in which they had multiple chances to pull ahead but blew it every time).  Meanwhile, NU cruised in week one against I-AA/FCS Northeastern and pulled off a last-minute victory against Nevada last week in classic Cardiac 'Cats style.

Duke is bad, but still have the capability to beat Northwestern - if not only for superstitious reasons (because of the streak discussed above).  Oh, and there was the 2002 game when NU barely got by Duke 26-21 (around the time of Duke's previous 23 game losing streak), and then 1998 when a heavily favored NU got thumped by Duke 44-10 in front of a rather large crowd of 40,000+.  The Blue Devil DL is pretty good although the remainder of their defense is spotty at best.  Their offense will put up points on the 'Cats - and a lot of them if Northwestern plays like they did in the first half against Nevada last week.

Overall, though, this is a game Northwestern should and needs to win.  NU has built up confidence surrounding last week's comeback win, and now the 'Cats must translate that into intensity and drive this week, especially given the schedule moving forward.  But hopefully the players are only concentrating on Duke because this is still a dangerous game, and a game in which some aspects of the Wildcats must prove themselves (OL and DL at a minimum).

Line: Northwestern -16.5

Who Should Win: Northwestern should win easily, especially if the 'Cats continue with a solid passing attack, which has been a weak point for the Duke defense this year.  If the defense plays like it did against Nevada in much of the second half, NU should be able to cruise to a win.

What to Look For: Northwestern's defense - will it give up yards by the bunches or be able to lock down and force punts?  Will the defensive line finally get any pressure on the QB or will he have all night to throw?  Will Colby throw in blitzes like we saw in the second half of the Nevada game or will the 'Cats count on the front 4 to create pressure alone?  These are the biggest questions that will have to be answered against competition where NU obviously has the upper hand.  Obviously the defense took a step back in game 2 so now NU must show that it can recover and step up at the beginning of a game.  Notice that the first drive by Northeastern yielded a FG attempt (which was missed) and the first drive by Nevada yielded a TD - the 'Cats must come out with a solid gameplan to stop their opponent immediately as they can't afford to get in the hole early.

On offense, NU must keep the spread chugging along - and that means pass completions.  Last week CJ had a completion percentage under 50% and missed some open receivers - and the QB/WR communications must be put back in sync.  This game will depend on NU's passing success - which means Bacher must be on target.  Of course it would be nice if NU decided to muster a running game (which a Sutton injury doesn't help at all), but Duke's poor secondary performance thus far points to passing as the key to NU moving the ball.  This means that the NU OL must do a better job protecting Bacher - which it has not done so far (he has been sacked 4 times so far this season and hurried more than a few other times) - especially facing a talented Duke DL.

Finally, for special teams, NU must keep on keeping on - Villareal is perfect and Demos is really booting the ball.  Coverage units have done very well (although they failed to recover a couple of loose balls last week - but just preventing any big returns is fine with me), and the only point worth improving would be punt and kick returns, but hopefully the big return will come.

Opponent to Watch: Duke defensive line - they are the ones who could stymie NU's air attack by putting pressure on CJ - something Nevada found useful for most of the game last week.  The 'Cats' OL hasn't looked very solid thus far and will be tested this week.

Upset Factor: Duke has a 22-game losing streak (NU's I-A/FCS record is 34), they have given NU a hard time in recent years (most notably that 1998 upset blowout), and while they do have a big losing streak and haven't looked good - many of those loses have been really close and have been games where the Blue Devils blew a chance to take a lead or win the game.  Oh, and NU has OSU and UM coming up in consecutive weeks so looking ahead is dangerously possible for the 'Cats.

Miscellaneous: ATTENDANCE!  NU's first 2 games in 2007 have yielded the lowest attendance numbers since the late 1970's, which is horrific.  So far, no game has topped 20,000 - which was NU's previous minimum (set last year) over the past 3 or so decades.  Saturday night will mark the return of NUMB, a night game, high school band night (with 15 bands in attendance plus NUMB), as well as a few other promotions: take a kid to the game night and a salute to midwest football.  I HOPE that this all combines to give attendance a much-needed boost.  Also, the Cardiac 'Cats win last week should prompt some people to show up.

Injury Report: Out for season - Diaz (OL), Brewer (WR).  Sutton (RB) - came out of game 2 with leg injury but was seen running and is still listed as the starting RB, although he is reportedly a game-time decision, don't be surprised if he is held out to ensure his health going into Big Ten play.  Simpson (LB) - came out with an ankle injury and does not appear on the 2-deep, he is reportedly out this week.  Smith (S) - played significant time last week, but not nearly every play, expect to see him in the game but still coming out on a few plays.

Prediction: Northwestern 38 - Duke 14.

Go 'Cats!!! 

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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