Familiarity frames fight between No. 21 Duke, Northwestern

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Northwestern and No. 21 Duke have reached the third week of the season having already captured rewarding experiences.

The Wildcats and Blue Devils look for more when they meet in a nonconference game Saturday at Durham, N.C.

Duke (2-0) has recorded convincing victories over Clemson and Lafayette.

Northwestern (1-1) will be a different type of opponent.

“I think they know the scheme that they’re playing very well, and they play it very fast,” Duke coach Mike Elko said. “I think they’re a big, big challenge for us.”

Interim coach David Braun and his Northwestern team had something to celebrate after a chaotic summer. The Wildcats thumped UTEP 38-7 last week in their home opener.

“A couple of corrections from UTEP and moving on to Duke — a really, really well-coaching football team that is playing really good football right now, playing with a lot of confidence,” Braun said. “We’re looking forward to getting down to Durham and playing our best football.”

Duke quarterback Riley Leonard completed all 12 of his throws last week against Lafayette. The Blue Devils went 20-for-21 in the air for a program-record 95.2-percent complete rate, with the lone incompletion an intentional spike late in the first half to stop the clock.

“With high-end quarterback play (that they’ve shown), we’ve got a big challenge ahead of us,” Braun said.

Northwestern has been rallying to overcome odds since a hazing scandal rocked the program and led to a coaching change. So with the Wildcats facing a ranked team on the road, this might fit well.

“I think this group is at its best as underdogs,” Braun said. “We talked about this year that there’s going to be ups and downs. I think you see a group that is very hungry.”

Northwestern quarterback Ben Bryant completed 11 of 17 passes without an interception in the UTEP game after getting picked off twice at Rutgers.

So, the Wildcats could be rounding into form.

“A team that’s got a tremendous amount of pride and have had some challenging things happen over there this summer, but I’m sure they have rallied and regrouped and certainly finished the game against UTEP the way they wanted to,” Elko said. “I think they’re starting to hit their stride now.”

Three Duke assistant coaches are former staff members at Northwestern.

“There is a little bit of a chess match that’s going on,” Braun said. “It’s impressive, they’ve built a good foundation right now. They’re climbing right now.”

Duke’s 11-4 record under Elko gives the second-year coach the best 15-game record in program history.

The Blue Devils are 18-2 in their last 20 non-conference home games, with one of the setbacks to Northwestern in 2015.

Duke is in its third home game after playing twice last week in a six-night stretch. Northwestern, which opened the season with a loss at Rutgers, is trying for its first road victory since 2020 at Purdue. The Wildcats hold a 12-game losing streak in true road games.

Duke carries a 12-10 series lead, winning the past four matchups with the Wildcats. That includes a 31-23 decision last year at Evanston, Ill.

–Field Level Media

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