Duke Post Game


Duke Post Game
by Jonathan Hodges

If you are actually reading this, you are a true Northwestern fan (i.e. glutton for punishment).  As you probably already know, Northwestern lost to Duke 14-20 on Saturday evening to ensure that the 'Cats would retain the record losing streak for I-A/FBS (albeit Duke still had a long way to go and had a good chance to break that streak this season) - the streak is dead!  long live the streak!  Indeed, it was Northwestern that halted their skid at Ryan Field as the Wildcats couldn't muster that winning score despite 3 scoreless trips into the Duke red zone.  Once again NU can't beat the opponents that it should and will have at least one blemish on its non-conference schedule - and will have a tough time attaining bowl eligibility (especially if this level of play continues). 

Who To Blame?


If you want to find someone to blame, don't ask me - everyone looks to be at fault in this one.  On NU's 2nd play from scrimmage, CJ threw an interception, although Duke proceeded to immediately fumble ( e.g. drop) the ball to give NU possession right back.  Bacher also later had an interception into Duke's end zone, although he was throwing from midfield on a 3rd and 20 and it was arguably equivalent to a punt.  On the day CJ had a new career high 368 yards on 30/50 passing (60%, which is pretty decent) plus 35 yards on the ground (which includes 2 sacks) - including the 35 yard scamper on NU's final drive which gave it first and goal at the 7.  Given those pretty solid stats one can't necessarily blame CJ for NU's loss, although 4 of those incomplete passes came on the final 4 plays of the game while attempting to score the game-tying/go-ahead TD.  Don't forget the other role players on offense like Lane who made some clutch catches for 128 yards (but was also called for holding on a potential TD play), Roberson who managed 80 yards despite not being a major contributor to the offense, as well as Thompson and Peterman who also made some clutch catches for NU.  Some blame must fall onto the offensive line, though, as they allowed 2 sacks and CJ to be hurried all night (8 hurries recorded) as Duke realized that the best game plan was to blitz on virtually every play (and, hey, it worked).


On defense, NU failed early then somehow came back to keep Duke off the scoreboard.  After the Blue Devils' fumble on their first play from scrimmage, they managed 3 consecutive TD-scoring drives of 86, 70, and 80 yards.  After that their longest drive was 35 yards and the closest they were to another score was the NU 35.  Also credit the D with some big stops late, including a stop on 4th and 1 late in the 3rd quarter (although it had to be reviewed in order to properly spot the ball).  Overall, Duke had only 63 net rushing yards and 309 yards of total offense, which isn't bad considering how the game started.  While Duke may have gone into a "prevent offense" after going up 20-7, credit the NU defense with keeping NU in this one the whole time and keeping Duke off the scoreboard throughout the second half.  While NU managed to contain Duke, they couldn't provide a spark that Northwestern needed to grab the win - no turnovers after that dropped ball on Duke's first offensive play of the game - and NO SACKS.  Actually, virtually no pressure on Duke's QB all night - he finished 19/23 for 246 yds with 3 TDs - I bet those Big Ten QBs are chomping at the bit to get a shot at NU's defense.  It all starts up front and once again the 'Cats got almost no pressure on the passer.  Even when NU ran a solid blitz play (sending LB Malleo later in the game) he had a straight shot at the QB but just watched as Lewis evaded his pressure and got the ball off.

Special Teams?

You can probably keep the blame away from NU special teams - well everyone except for the punt return unit.  Demos was stellar once again, showing off his many-faced kicking styles on both kickoffs and punts - even doing some great rugby-style directional punts that pinned the Blue Devils deep in their own end a couple of times.  Stefan had 2 punts on the day, averaging 47 yards/punt and pinning Duke inside the 20 BOTH times - I would say that is pretty solid.  On kickoffs he averaged 57.7 yards per kick, including a pooch.  Villareal was not tested much as he was 2/2 on XPs - although he did convert a FG that Fitz decided to take off the board - more on that later.  Finally to the punt return team - while Duke didn't attempt a punt until the second half, they eventually punted 4 times and NU had ZERO return yards.  In fact the punt returner on the night, Smith, only caught one punt - the final punt of the game - and was immediately pummeled because he failed to call for a fair catch despite the uncovered defender racing directly at him.  One can't fault him for everything, though, as a couple of Duke's punts were short and not returnable, but on one that was returnable he was about 10 yards ahead of where he should have been - and Fitz placed Smith on the field himself, which leads to the next point...


YOU NEVER TAKE POINTS OFF THE BOARD!  An old coaching adage heard many times and Fitz's excitement most likely overtook him.  Here's the situation: it was 4th and 8 at the Duke 16.  Up to that point in the season NU had scored in EVERY trip to the red zone - which was a pretty good sign.  Things looked to continue with Villareal once again nailing a FG (a 34 yarder this time).  Duke was called for offsides - Fitz could choose to keep the points (making it 10-20 with less than 2:00 to go in the first half) or could go for it on 4th and 3 at the 11.  While there was over a half of football to play and plenty of chances for NU to make up those additional 10 points, he chose to erase those points from the board and go for it on 4th down.  Incomplete pass.  Not to mention NU's 2 fruitless trips to the red zone in the 4th quarter (where NU was forced to go for the TD thanks to the margin) - and assuming NU kicked and made at least one FG on those trips it would have been a tied game if Fitz had kept those points on the board.

While the defense really shored up in the second half, the offense almost never got into any rhythm.  NU had a solid 506 yards of total offense on the night, including 138 rushing yards and the previously mentioned 368 passing yards - totaling about 200 more yards than Duke on the night.  Sure, NU had one more turnover but that was basically a wash - after NU's first interception on the night Duke promptly handed the ball right back to NU.  The other INT was basically equivalent to a punt.  So, how did NU manage to stay out of the end zone with that many yards??


Northwestern had 13 penalties for 125 yards.  To put that into perspective, NU had 8 penalties for 80 yards in the first 2 games combined, and last year was #1 in the nation in fewest penalties and penalty yards per game (the 'Cats averaged only 3.25 penalties/game and averaged 28 penalty yards/game).  And, of course, NU's penalties were at the costliest of times - including just before the final play of the game (putting NU an additional 5 yards back).  Obviously NU was either:

1. Very unfocused and looking forward to next week's game in Columbus, or

2. The ACC officials were doing everything in their power to slant the game in favor of Duke.

Looking at the calls on the field - many of them judgment calls that could have gone either way (and usually go the way of no call) - and the total penalty numbers (Duke had 8 for 73 yards, not horrible, but then again some of them were blatant).  Oh, and this goes without mentioning the fact that Wooton was being held while Lewis threw his 50+ yard TD pass (although the secondary arguably should have been able to tackle the ball carrier.  In any case, despite the "slanted field" in regards to penalties, NU should have been able to overcome those calls - yet was not able to.

Player of the Game: Referee Scott McElwee--  21 total penalties, 198 total penalty yards.

Honorable Mention #1: Coach Fitzgerald--  -3 points, 5 yards
Honorable Mention #2: The entire Duke team

Solid Performances:
Duke Defensive Line: Got pressure on NU's QB all night and did a good job of holding back NU's rushing game (when it was actually used).  This performance was what sealed the deal.
Duke QB Lewis: Avoided big mistakes (although he couldn't capitalize on great field position to start the game, fumbling the ball on his first play) and led 3 long TD drives (with TD passes on all of them).
Stefan Demos: 2 punts, 47.0 yards/punt, both inside the 20, and solid kickoffs - one of the only bright spots for NU on the night.
Kevin Mims: 10 tackles, 2 TFL - I'll put him on here although he along with the rest of the line couldn't get pressure on the QB.
John Gill: 6 tackles, was in on a TFL - I saw a couple great tackles from him away from the line as he tracked down the play.  Unfortunately he didn't have many plays behind the line.

What to Work On:
Just about everything: OL - protect the QB, DL - get pressure on the QB, secondary - don't allow the big plays, punt returns - actually return the ball, running game - please actually hand off the ball to sustain some drives, and please no penalties like we saw today.

Random Observations:
- Duke picked on Battle all night - I would say about half the throws that were made were right to whomever he was covering.
- The "Colby cushion" was in full effect - NU had nobody in a position to make a play on the Duke passes which meant virtually every pass was a completion.
- Give Duke credit for coming out wanting to win the game, despite the penalties, NU missed opportunities, and other mistakes they still outplayed Northwestern and were aggressive in seeking that win.
- I hope that NU can move on from this ugly loss and better itself over the rest of the season.  Things get a lot tougher from here, but hopefully NU can learn something from this tough loss like it has in past years (think ASU in 2005, TCU in 2004 and 2000, Miami OH in 1995, and Wake Forest in 1996).  Obviously the 'Cats can bounce back if they can put it behind them - something I'm still trying to do.

Go 'Cats!!!

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

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