One of my favorite book series as a young boy were the “We Were There” books. Of course, those authors generally were NOT there at those historical events. However, they were responsible for my love at first sight, or in this case read, with history. With that in mind, what follows are my “I was there” recollections from Saturday evening.
First of all, a heartfelt thank you to Paul Kennedy and the Northwestern staff for press credentials. It’s been quite awhile since this retired public school teacher has been in a press box and it was fun to revisit my youth in this way. Everyone was welcoming and helpful.
The setting was something everyone should experience. From the box, you could see the expanse that is Lake Michigan. It’s easy to think you’re looking at the ocean, complete with lighthouse. Soon, the nearly full moon was visible, which added to the beauty of the scene. Suddenly, thousands of students began to rush in, giving high fives to the university president, and finally filling up the many empty seats. So much for the good.
Now for the bad. There is a sports version of the saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Victory is a total team effort.
Unfortunately, so is losing. Duke won the toss, deferred, and Northwestern promptly marched 75 yards in 10 plays for a 7-0 lead they held for almost the entire first half. The halftime stat sheet NW with 76 on the ground in 27 carries to 48 for Duke on 15 rushes. Duke had 152 in the air on 12 completions but NW had 146 on only 8 completions. Coach Cut’s wish to limit explosive plays was clearly not being being fulfilled again.
The Wildcats led in time of possession and Duke had been penalized 5 times for 42 yards already. Duke was 2-5 on 3rd down while NW was 6-10. Duke did put together an impressive 99 yard drive in the second period after a spectacular interception by Byron Fields. But the only reason the game was still tied at halftime was NW missed two FG attempts at the end of the half. They missed a 49 yarder but Duke was guilty of roughing the kicker and NW missed again from 34 yards out.
After a 12 play, 54 yard drive to start the second half ended with a fumble, it was mostly ugly for the Blue Devils. Three and out, followed by a three and out a dropped punt snap. This was followed by a 44 yard pass play by Northwestern and Duke was almost done.
Two more three and outs followed and that was the entire Duke output for the 3rd period. Duke had a chance to make it a one score contest with about 10 minutes left with another trip into the red zone. However, they had to settle for a FGA from 34 yards out that sailed wide. The Wildcats added another long TD pass and Duke scored a meaningless TD late, missing the PAT for the final margin.
As for the ugly, Singleton was ejected for a targeting foul in the 4th quarter. The ugly may continue next week as the young man will have to miss the first half at South Bend. It was absolutely the correct call….read the rule everyone. There may have been some frustration due to Northwestern’s success over the middle the entire game but those plays have to stop.
The last two games are good examples of how close the line is between success and failure in terms of wins and losses. And winning is a total team effort. There were some nice alignment adjustments that allowed Duke to actually outgain NW on the ground by the end of the contest, but Duke seemed to go away from that after initial success.
Duke needs to get Shaun Wilson some more touches in ways that allow him to use his speed and probably some misdirection in the playbook might open things up as well.
Each phase of the game has to get a little better and quickly. The schedule is unforgiving.
RHowever, on the upside, I did get to meet Wes Chesson. Now if I can only convince him to sneak me into the radio booth where I hear there is an opening next fall.