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Duke Dominates Northwestern 41-17

It wasn’t that close either.

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Northwestern v Duke
DURHAM, NC - SEPTEMBER 09: Davis Koppenhaver #81 and T.J. Rahming #3 of the Duke Blue Devils celebrate following a touchdown by Koppenhavey during their game against the Northwestern Wildcats at Wallace Wade Stadium on September 9, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

The word “aberration” was used a lot during Duke’s football off season, usually in the form of a question.

Was last season’s 4-8 mark an aberration or the beginning of a downward spiral?

Two games is a pretty small sample size. But aberration looks like the operative word after Duke pounded favored Northwestern 41-17 Saturday afternoon.

It wasn’t a perfect game for Duke. There were some mistakes.

But it was a dominant performance, without a hint of fluke. Duke was simply better than the visitors in every aspect of the game.

Defensive tackle Mike Ramsey called it a “complete game, for all four quarters,” and it’s hard to argue the point.

David Cutcliffe said he wasn’t surprised. Duke had great practices this week, enough so that Cutcliffe said that by Thursday he was convinced that Duke was going to win.

It didn’t actually start well for Duke. The Wildcats drew first blood, Charlie Kuhbander hitting a 40-yard field goal in the middle of the opening quarter.

Duke tried to answer back but Daniel Jones was picked off - Cutcliffe called the play a miscommunication - at the Northwestern 13.

Jones said he was “irritated” at the play, which ended his streak at 202 passes without an interception, four short of Thad Lewis’ school record.

Jones shook it off, Duke got the ball back and the Blue Devils began an offensive barrage, Jones at the center of it, passing sand running with equal effectiveness.

The redshirt sophomore from Charlotte finished a 13-play, 80-yard drive with an 11-yard run. The drive was prolonged when an apparent interception was overturned on a targeting call.

Cutcliffe and Jones had a heart-to-heart about throwing into traffic in the red zone.

Duke extended the lead when Jones hit Chris Taylor on a 52-yard bomb and followed that with a four-yard TD run by Jones, dragging two Wildcat defenders into the end zone.

While this was going on, Duke was stifling Northwestern’s offense. Cutcliffe credited team speed and preparation.

Justin Jackson came into the game as the second-leading active career rusher in the NCAA but could only dent Duke for 18 yard, on seven carries.

Ramsey said the goal was to “get them into second and long, third and long, contain the run and make [Clayton] Thorson throw off his back foot.”

Thorson was sacked three times in the first half.

Safety Alonzo Saxton made the defensive play of the game in the second quarter, when he forced a fumble after a completion and recovered the loose ball.

“Right when he [Cameron Green] caught the ball, he turned and the ball was basically right in my hands when I came to make the tackle.”

The turnover led to Duke’s third touchdown.

Up 21-3 in the middle of the second quarter, Duke twice threw Northwestern a lifeline. An unusual penalty—five men in the backfield—pushed Duke out of field goal range and resulted in a punt. Duke got it back and drove to the Northwestern 44, where Brittain Brown coughed it up, with 1:35 left in the half..

It took the visitors only 62 of those seconds to put it in the end zone, making it 21-10 at intermission.

Duke dodged a bullet early in the third quarter, when Jones fumbled on a sack. But Shaun Wilson fell on the ball at the Duke 22.

Mark Gilbert got an interception and Duke added to its lead, with a 31-yard Austin Parker field goal.

The official temperature was middle 70s in the shade. But it was much hotter on the shade-less Brooks Field and Duke began to wear down the Northwestern defense with time-consuming drives.

Duke kept the ball for 15 plays, ending the 75-yard drive (5:15 elapsed time) with a one-yard Jones pass to tight end Davis Koppenhaver.

Duke got it back and went 82 yards in 13 plays, mostly on the ground as the northern visitors began to visibly wilt

Gilbert got his second pick of the day, setting up Parker’s second field goal of the day and Duke was up 41-10. Northwestern’s backup quarterback Matt Alviti engineered a morale-building drive and the game ended 41-17.

Cutcliffe praised Duke’s ability to withstand the game’s “ebbs and flows,” especially the disastrous final two minutes of the first half.

“When you give up a late touchdown at the end of a half, you’re testing yourself. So, we come up with four scores in the second half, totally dominate the second half of the game.”


Duke outgained Northwestern 538 yards to 191—92 of those game with the backup quarterback in mop-up time and dominated time-of-possession 41:18 to 18:42.

Daniel Jones ended the game with 305 passing yards (29-45) and 108 rushing yards, on 16 carries. It was the second 300/100 yard game in Duke history. Brandon Connette had the other, against Pittsburgh.

T.J. Rahming had 12 catches, for 127 yards. He also had 12 catches against Virginia, in 2015.

Rahming got poked in an eye in the first half and had to convince the coaches to put him back in.

Taylor’s 52-yard score helped him to a career-high 75 receiving yards, on three catches.

Duke notched four sacks, seven pass break-ups and forced three turnovers, while allowing 3.5 yards per play, 22 net yards rushing.

True freshman Jackson Driggers kicked off seven times (Parker had one), with three touchbacks. Northwestern averaged 16.6 yards on the five they returned.

Cutcliffe said that Driggers won the job in practice and is the top kick-off guy at this point.

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