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Wildcats Offense vs. Blue Devils Defense: Who has the Upper Hand?

Will the Wildcats offensive struggles continue in week three?

The Northwestern University football team has had two very different offensive performances in the 2021 season thus far, and a date with ACC foe Duke University should help identify the ability of the Wildcats offense even further. 

Blue Devils Defense

The first away game of the season puts the Wildcats up against a Blue Devil team that is 1–1 in 2021 and ranks 78th in the FBS in total defense. Duke has allowed 742 yards and six touchdowns in two games this season, with an average play distance of 5.34 yards and an average yards against of 371.0 per game. 

The Blue Devils have not yet recorded an interception in 2021, but have forced two fumbles, although they did not recover either. Redshirt junior linebacker Shaka Heyward leads the team in total tackles with 20 and junior safety Jalen Alexander leads the team in individual tackles with 10.

Wildcats Offense

The passing offense looked strong in the week one loss against the Michigan State Spartans. Redshirt senior quarterback Hunter Johnson was 30-43 with 283 yards and three touchdowns, but this performance was not repeated in the week two victory over Indiana State University. Johnson was only 9-16 for 66 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the game, and if the Wildcats want to defeat the Blue Devils, this passing offense will need to be more effective and reminiscent of week one.

When examining the rushing attack, it is a complete reversal of the passing offense. The unit stalled pretty hard in week one, only mustering 117 yards across seven different ball carriers with zero touchdowns. Week two was a different story, as the Wildcats earned 209 yards across five ball carriers and two touchdowns. Sophomore running back Evan Hull provided both touchdowns, along with 126 rushing yards in a stellar day. Freshman running back Anthony Tyus III contributed 71 yards as well. If the Wildcats can keep this ground game going, the Blue Devils will surely have a tough time containing it.

Player Notes

While statistics and past performances certainly can tell much of the story of a team, the reaction from practice and film study is very valuable in preparing effectively. Northwestern senior center Sam Gerak noted how effective the Blue Devils are in pressuring the offensive line, but noted that they key for the Wildcats to have offensive success will be playing a complete game.

"I think as an offense, we need to put all the phases of our play together, try to not have one man breakdowns and just kind of get it together," Gerak said.

Gerak also noted that the young players have been maturing, and this only will help the team improve.

I think guys are in their head less, and once you get those first couple series and those first couple of games under your belt, it's just football," Gerak said. "Those guys have been able to continue to realize that and see that it's just like it wasn't high school just little faster, bigger bodies, more complicated."

Sophomore running back Evan Hull said that he believes that developing an explosive offense is well within reach for the Wildcats, but the rushing attack is feeling dynamic with the offensive line and ready to challenge the Blue Devils defense.

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"I think our identity kind of goes in the running game especially as running backs we're trying to be the catalyst of the offense and offensive line is a big part of that," Hull said.  "We also want to be a threat in the in the pass game too, so we try to be a high powered offense."

True freshman running back Anthony Tyus III believes that aggressive play will be the key to the victory, and not caving to Duke's strengths will help the unit have success.

"I say we come with the mindset that [Duke] will not stop the run," Tyus III said. "Come in with Smash Mouth football right down the gut, getting in their faces and then just with our skill."


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