Last weekend was the first time since 2021 that the Northwestern Wildcats won a game on U.S. soil, and now they have to head back on the road to take on one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Riley Leonard and the Duke Blue Devils. We’ll preview the game before going over which side I’ll be backing.
There was no drop off in play or letdown for the Duke Blue Devils following their huge week one win over Clemson, as they steamrolled Lafayette over the weekend 42-7. Duke dominated both sides of the ball, with Riley Leonard going 12-12 with 136 yards and a touchdown before being taken out of the game. The Blue Devils run game is also worth noting since they rushed for 261 yards and four touchdowns, with Jordan Waters leading the way.
Defensively, the Blue Devils made it two straight games where they’ve held an opponent to just seven points. Duke would also record two more inceptions against Lafayette, which gives them three already on the year. In total, the Blue Devils allowed just 213 yards of offense on Saturday, which sets up a big challenge for Northwestern, who just beat UTEP 38-7.
After only scoring seven points in week one against Rutgers, the Wildcats took it to the Miners in the second half by scoring 31 unanswered points. It took a while for quarterback Ben Bryant to get settled in, but he came out of the locker room after halftime and immediately threw and ran for a touchdown. In total, Northwestern would put up 391 yards of offense, but the biggest story is they were able to rush for 184 yards after finishing with just 12 rushing yards against Rutgers.
Defensively, the Wildcats proved they can still push around a smaller school, finishing the game with four sacks and three interceptions. Aside from a touchdown they allowed on the game's opening drive, Northwestern’s defense played solid football and kept the Miners off the board the rest of the game. Now, the question remains of whether they can hold their own against another power five opponent.
Duke comes into this matchup listed at (-18.5) point favorites, and I’ll be backing them for my play. As nice as it was to see Northwestern finally able to break their losing streak, a win over UTEP does not do it for me, and after watching them get manhandled by Rutgers, I think it will only be worse against Duke.
Entering this week, the Wildcats are 95th in EPA per play on defense according to CFB Graphs, and that does not bode well against a Duke offense that is 33rd in offensive net points per drive. Northwestern’s secondary is 104th in EPA per pass play, and now they face the best quarterback they have seen this season in Riley Leonard, who put up 273 total yards of offense against Clemson’s defense.
Northwestern won’t be able to get off to a slow start and get away with it like they did last week, especially since the Blue Devils are 27th in EPA on defense. Northwestern has a solid running back in Cam Porter, but Duke is 11th in EPA per rush play, and I think they can dominate the Northwestern o-line more than Rutgers did. If Duke can take Porter out of the game early and force Bryant to make plays, I think the Blue Devils can win by three touchdowns.