*shudders in Mataeo Durant*
After facing FCS program Indiana State, the Wildcats’ schedule now brings them back to Power Five competition, as they head to Durham to take on the Duke Blue Devils. Northwestern has faced Duke six times since Pat Fitzgerald took over as head coach in 2006, so you might already be familiar with the program.
They lost their season opener to Charlotte
Chances are, if you’re a Northwestern fan, you didn’t have a very pleasant September 3, as the Wildcats were pummeled by Michigan State to open their season at Ryan Field. You may have thought to yourself, “this has to be the most embarrassed a college football fan has felt tonight,” and you’d have had good reason to believe that, given that the ‘Cats lost 38-21 while surrendering a 264 yard, four touchdown rushing performance to the Spartans’ Kenneth Walker III.
You would have been wrong, though, to assume that you were a part of the most miserable fanbase in college football that night, as that title went to the fans of the Blue Devils. Duke lost their opener that Friday to the Charlotte 49ers, who started playing football in 2013, and only moved up to the FBS level as a member of Conference USA in 2015.
In a game that featured six total fumbles, the Blue Devils managed to look as bad against the pass as the Wildcats did against the run on opening night, allowing Charlotte QB Chris Reynolds to toss for 324 yards and three touchdowns while averaging nearly 11 yards per passing attempt.
Still, Duke really should’ve been able to pull it off. A 53-yard touchdown run by RB Mataeo Durant (we’ll get to him in a second) put the Blue Devils up by four with under two minutes to play, and after the kickoff that ensued, they had a 94.1% chance of winning the game according to ESPN. However, Reynolds split up Duke defenders like a paring knife on Charlotte’s last drive of the game, eventually completing a touchdown pass that gave his team the upset win and sent 49er fans frantically onto the field.
RB Mataeo Durant is a beast
About that Charlotte game: did I mention that Duke managed to lose it while their running back Mataeo Durant rushed for 255 yards, a single-game program record? While his team might’ve fallen flat on their faces, Durant was a force to be reckoned with in Week One, and is the heart and soul of Duke’s offense.
Durant, a true senior from Plum Branch, South Carolina, leads the NCAA in rushing touchdowns, with six ground scores through just two games. After rushing for 817 yards in 2020, he’s on pace to become the first 1,000-yard rusher at Duke since Coach David Cutcliffe took over in 2008, and if he can continue thrashing defenses the way he has thus far, he’ll garner looks from NFL teams come draft day.
Of course, Durant’s quality is mainly a concern to Northwestern fans due to the Wildcats’ inability to stop Kenneth Walker III in their opening loss to Michigan State. If the ‘Cats want to compete in Durham, their defensive focus will have to start and end with containing Durant.
Duke and NU are tied against each other all-time
If you’ve been a Northwestern fan for decades, you’re probably well acquainted with Wallace Wade Stadium. The Wildcats have visited Duke’s home turf ten times, while also hosting the Blue Devils ten times at Ryan Field. Combined, the 20 contests represent the most the ‘Cats have played against a non-Big Ten Power Five opponent.
The result of those 20 matches? An even split between Duke and NU. The first game between the two schools, a win for the Blue Devils, was played back in 1985. The ‘Cats would face their southern foes once a season for the five years that followed, losing each time. The series restarted with eight consecutive years of competition beginning in 1996, with NU taking seven of eight. After a split home-and-home in 2007 and 2008 and two NU wins followed by two Duke victories between 2015 and 2018, the teams have been left with ten wins apiece.
Now, after a three year hiatus, Duke and Northwestern are back at it. This game will mark the first of four consecutive years of play between the two elite institutions, with the Blue Devils returning to Ryan Field on September 10, 2022.