Losses take shine off matchup between Duke, Northwestern
EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) It looked like an intriguing matchup between dangerous ACC and Big Ten teams trying to show that they can compete with the best in their conferences.
Instead, Duke and Northwestern come into Saturday's game trying to shake off losses and get headed back in the right direction.
''The challenge for us … first road game, playing a Power Five team, understanding the focus, effort that it's going to take,'' Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. ''That's kind of going to be interesting. This is where you really start tagging a team as to who they are and how they're going to respond. It's never a must-win – you just don't have that until you get toward the end of your season – but these are times where you must answer the bell.''
Duke (1-1) has made some big strides in recent years with three straight winning seasons and a division championship. The Blue Devils have made four consecutive bowls and finally won one last year. But after opening with an easy victory over crosstown opponent North Carolina Central, they took one on the chin last week with a 24-14 loss to Wake Forest.
At least Duke has a victory this season.
Northwestern is searching for its first win after opening with a one-point loss to MAC favorite Western Michigan and falling 9-7 at home to FCS power Illinois State on a field goal as time expired. It is certainly not what the Wildcats envisioned after going 10-3 in a rebound season that seemed to quiet concerns about the program after going 5-7 in back-to-back years.
The slow start has raised concerns that Northwestern is too predictable on offense and that last season – not the previous two – was an exception.
''I think you have to have an identity,'' coach Pat Fitzgerald said. ''You have to get the guys to execute cleanly. If you'd like me to tell you what Iowa's going to do, I can tell you exactly what they're going to do. Most teams have an identity. You're able to stick to your identity and then build complements off of it. … Whoever's opinion that is, I respect it. But I don't think it matters what you run; if you don't run it efficiently, you're not going to be very good.''
Here are some things to look for as Duke tries to shake off a loss and Northwestern seeks its first win:
Keep an eye on active Duke LB Joe Giles-Harris, who leads Atlantic Coast Conference freshmen with 21 tackles. He was all over the field last week against Wake Forest, finishing with 15 stops, recovering a fumble and intercepting a pass.
Fitzgerald expects star running back Justin Jackson to play after exiting in the fourth quarter last week with a leg injury. Jackson, however, was less certain.
''I'll be doing everything I can to play on Saturday,'' he said.
Jackson, the Big Ten's second-leading rusher a year ago, ran for 42 yards last week after going for 124 in the opener.
GOOD ON THE ROAD
This is Duke's road opener, and the Blue Devils have won 13 of their last 16 road games since 2013 – the most among ACC programs in that time span, and trailing only Ohio State (15) among teams from the five power conferences.
A win for the Blue Devils would give them at least a 2-1 start in each of the last five years. That's something Duke hasn't done since 1960-66.
Fitzgerald hinted at possible changes on the offensive line after a rough showing against Illinois State . Northwestern got outgained 372 yards to 277, managed just 16 first downs to Illinois State's 25 and converted 5 of 18 third downs. Clayton Thorson also got sacked three times and completed 17 of 41 passes for 191 yards.