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Duke Defeats Northwestern But Jones Leaves With Shoulder Injury

That’s potentially a huge problem for Duke

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NCAA Football: Duke at Northwestern
Sep 8, 2018; Evanston, IL, USA; Duke Blue Devils quarterback Daniel Jones (17) looks to pass the ball in the first half against the Northwestern Wildcats at Ryan Field. 
Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Duke visited Northwestern in a rematch of last year’s game, which Duke won 41-17. This year was a defensive affair, as Duke won again 21-7.

Northwestern opened scoring with a running touchdown on the first drive, then the teams traded punts.

Duke broke through in the second on a pass from Jones to Rahming early in the second quarter, then followed that up with a pick on the first pass of the ensuing Northwestern drive, but couldn’t make any points out of it.

Northwestern threw a pick again, but the returner is targeted by Northwestern’s star tight end and fumbles, although Duke quickly recovers. As an aside, this is why offensive players should still be taught how to tackle, because a simple interception return still resulted in an ugly hit. As another aside, Waters did return to the game later in the second quarter, which we can only hope means he passed concussion protocols. After this, Jones immediately threw a perfect 52-yard touchdown pass on a play-action bomb to Lloyd.

Jackson got significant carries throughout the first half — one can imagine that although Brown is healthy, last week’s injury may still be on the coaching staff’s minds. Jones hit Koppenhaver for a beautiful one-handed grab in the back of the end zone for a touchdown, and Duke now had 21 unanswered points. Jones became the fourth Duke quarterback ever to throw three touchdown passes in one quarter.

After the first drive, Northwestern was unproductive on the ground, much like last year. The defense did well getting the Wildcats to long 3rd downs.

Duke punts after one good pass from Jones to Ramhing, but Thorson is sacked on 4th and goal on the wildcats first drive of the third quarter.

More trading punts in the third quarter, as Duke continued to get pinned inside their own 20 but Northwestern cannot get moving on offense. Every time they ran the ball there were multiple Duke defenders all over the running back, and Thorson simply wasn’t accurate in the passing game. Duke repeatedly applied heavy pressure surely contributed, as the Blue Devils had multiple sacks on the day from linemen and linebackers.

The third quarter ended with no new scoring, as Northwestern passed up two good opportunities at field goals to go for it on fourth down, and Duke never had good field position.

Jones went to the locker room under his own power, but with an apparent shoulder injury. Quentin Harris took over with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter. That drive stalled after a nice 25 yard run by Harris, but Northwestern just couldn’t do anything with it. The Duke defense compensated for losing a starting CB and S by bring extra pressure on virtually every passing down. Thorson’s receivers didn’t help him by dropping multiple open passes. The teams essentially punted for field position to end the game, although Northwestern did also turn the ball over on downs a total of four times in the game. The aggressive playcalling did not work, and one wonders what the game would have looked like had Coach Fitzgerald kicked it a couple times instead.

Cutcliffe reported in the postgame interview that Jones’ injury was likely a clavicle injury, although he could not estimate the severity. Four Duke players left the game at some point: Jones, Mark Gilbert, Zach Harmon, and Waters, although the latter did return. Aaron Young did not play due to a lingering hamstring issue, and McDuffie is out as well. Duke visits Baylor next week, and Virginia Tech in three weeks as the ACC opener, so we must hope that at least some of these players can return to play. The second half of this game was mostly Northwestern getting sacked a lot, but getting close with the passing game, while Duke was content to run Jackson up the middle about 20 times for very little actual yardage. Playing it safe with a backup QB with a two touchdown lead is quite reasonable, but it’s not a viable long term strategy.

The Duke defense deserves a ton of credit for its seventh straight 4th quarter shutout, and also for keeping Northwestern scoreless for 54 minutes after allowing a touchdown on the opening drive. It’s an impressive effort by a banged-up group.

Notable stats: “Jones finished 16/22 for 192 yards and three touchdowns, clearly outplaying Thorson, who was talked up by the announcers as an NFL talent throughout the game but finished with 22/38, 198 yards, and a pick. TJ Green, the Wildcats’ other QB, was 9/18 with a pick of his own. Jake Collins, the Northwestern punter, did stand out with three punts downed inside the 20. Austin Parker punted 9 times, with 2 touchbacks and 2 more down inside the twenty. The teams as a whole finished very close statistically in terms of total yards and 3rd down efficiency, Duke just didn’t turn the ball over, which meant their yards actually produced points.

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