Northwestern gets chance for payback against Duke

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              FILE - In this Nov. 11, 2017, file photo, Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson (18) looks to pass against Purdue during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Evanston, Ill. Duke plays at Northwestern this week. Thorson got sacked four times and threw two interceptions when the two teams played last season. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
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EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — Northwestern has tried not to dwell on the blowout loss to Duke last year.

Even so, the Wildcats wouldn’t mind a little payback. They get their chance when the two teams meet again on Saturday.

“Yeah, that loss is in the back of our minds,” defensive tackle Jordan Thompson said. “But does it change how consistently we want to prepare every day? No.”

A 41-17 loss at Duke was part of a 2-3 start that threatened to derail a 10-win season that ended with a victory over Kentucky in the Music City Bowl. The Blue DevilsDaniel Jones accounted for 413 total yards and four touchdowns. Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson got sacked four times and threw two interceptions in that game.

Things really weren’t looking good for the Wildcats when they dropped two of their next three and started Big Ten play with back-to-back losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. But since then, it’s been nothing but victories.

Northwestern comes in with nine straight after opening with a 31-27 win at Purdue. It’s the longest streak among Power Five schools and the best for the Wildcats since 1995.

“This is the most athletic Northwestern team we’ve played,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “They are athletic in both lines of scrimmage, certainly at linebacker and in the secondary on defense. Offensively, they always give you trouble. They have very talented running backs, receivers and two quarterbacks who played well. They are disciplined in the kicking game and on offense, where they didn’t give up any sacks or turnovers.”

Duke, trying to build on its second bowl win in three years, is off to a good start. The Blue Devils beat Army 34-14, with Jones throwing for 197 yards and touchdown and running for a score.

BEHIND CENTER

Thorson was used in a rotation with TJ Green in the opener about nine months after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He completed 16 of 26 passes for 172 yards. Not bad, considering it was his first appearance since he was injured catching a pass on a trick play in the Wildcats’ victory over Kentucky in the Music City Bowl Fitzgerald had “no idea” how the rotation will play out this week. But he called Thorson’s return “critically important” and a “big shot of confidence” for the school’s winningest quarterback. Green was 7 of 11 for 63 yards against Purdue.

NEMESIS

Duke is 20-3 in its last 23 games against non-Atlantic Coast Conference opponents. Two of those losses have come against Northwestern, which won 24-13 in Evanston in 2016 and 19-10 the previous year in Durham.

CARRYING LOAD

Jeremy Larkin looks like he’s capable of replacing career rushing leader Justin Jackson as Northwestern’s featured running. The sophomore carried 26 times for a career-high 143 yards and two touchdowns against Purdue, a promising start for a running back with some big cleats to fill. Jackson ran for 5,440 yards and joined Wisconsin great Ron Dayne as the only Big Ten players to for at least 1,000 in all four seasons.

FINISHERS

The Blue Devils haven’t allowed a point in the fourth quarter of six consecutive games, and the last team to score in the final 15 minutes against them was Pittsburgh on Oct. 21, 2017. Duke led the ACC and ranked fourth nationally in 2017, allowing an average of 3.46 points in fourth quarters.

JONES-ING

Jones and Syracuse’s Eric Dungey came into the season as the only active QBs with at least 5,500 yards passing and 1,000 rushing. A junior, Jones has thrown for 5,724 and run for 1,047.