Duke Now

Northwestern stymies Duke offense in 19-10 victory

Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk (1) attempts to get a first down against the Wildcat defense in the first half of play at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham.
Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk (1) attempts to get a first down against the Wildcat defense in the first half of play at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham. cliddy@newsobserver.com

As the level of competition rose significantly this week, quarterback Thomas Sirk and the offense’s play did not keep pace. The Blue Devils were completely unable to establish any offensive rhythm as Northwestern was able to overcome its own uneven quarterback play for a 19-10 win.

Sirk had been excellent against Tulane and FCS N.C. Central, but he resorted to screen pass after screen pass, including several throws on third down well short of the first-down sticks. His final numbers: 24-of-39 for 150 yards (3.85 yards per attempt), no touchdowns and one interception. Running back Shaun Wilson lost a fumble and wide receiver Ryan Smith dropped a fair catch on a punt, making it three turnovers by Duke offensive players.

Duke’s defense was dominant in the first half, holding the Wildcats (3-0) to just 57 yards of total offense, but eventually Northwestern was able to wear the unit down, winning the battle at the line of scrimmage. A 98-yard kickoff return to open the second half gave the Wildcats a 9-7 lead they would not relinquish. A 55-yard touchdown run by Warren Long early in the fourth quarter put the game out of reach at 19-10.

Turning point

Northwestern’s offensive line had been winning the line of scrimmage for the entire second half, and it finally paid off on 3rd-and-1 from its own 45 early in the fourth quarter. Backup running back Warren Long, who had just one carry to that point, burst through the Duke defensive line for a 55-yard touchdown run. That made it 19-10 with 12:31 left in the game.

Three who mattered

Jeremy Cash: Best player on the defense, which limited Northwestern to 57 offensive yards in the first half. Cash finished with 11 total tackles, seven of them solo stops, with 3.5 tackles for loss and one forced fumble.

Will Monday: Duke’s best offensive player averaged 55 yards per punt and switched field position several times in the first half.

Solomon Vault: Opened the second half with a 98-yard kickoff return for Northwestern, permanently swinging the momentum in the Wildcats’ favor.

Three key numbers

1 of 10 Northwestern’s third-down conversion rate in the first half

5 of 10 Northwestern’s third-down conversion rate in the second half

78 The percent of Duke’s total offense that came from runs by Thomas Sirk and running backs Shaquille Powell and Shaun Wilson, and catches by Powell and Wilson, the top two receivers. The Blue Devils were hesitant to use other offensive options.

Highlight reel

Will Monday’s 71-yard punt that rolled out of bounds at the Northwestern 2-yard line to end the first half was Duke’s most impressive play of the day.

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