College Football

Duke hosts Northwestern in an ACC-Big Ten matchup

Posted September 8
Updated September 9

— In a decade under coach David Cutcliffe, Duke has finally started to defeat some of the teams that would regularly beat the Blue Devils.

Northwestern is not one of them.

The Wildcats (1-0) visit Durham on Saturday hoping to extend one of the Blue Devils' more puzzling losing streaks: They haven't beaten Northwestern since 2007, the year before Cutcliffe took over.

Cutcliffe said this shapes up as one of his team's biggest challenges.

"This might be the best Northwestern team we've played," Cutcliffe said.

These programs have plenty in common — both are elite academic institutions with football teams that have transformed from one-time laughingstocks to respectable programs that are at least annually in the bowl conversation.

The Blue Devils (1-0) snapped a 22-game losing streak in 2007 by beating the Wildcats in Evanston, Illinois. Cutcliffe took over after that season but hasn't been able to solve Northwestern — losing in 2008, 2015 and last year.

"As I look at the tape, I see déjà vu, but I'm also seeing a better team," Cutcliffe said.

Clayton Thorson threw for 320 yards and three touchdowns in that most recent victory . Thorson's first road start came at Duke in 2015, when he threw for just 70 yards and was intercepted twice but eked out a 19-10 win.

Thorson threw for 352 yards and two late scores in beating Nevada 31-20 last week, while Duke hung 60 points on an outmanned North Carolina Central team.

"Duke is going to present a lot of problems defensively," coach Pat Fitzgerals said. "He's going to have his challenges, without a doubt, this week, and those guys on the perimeter have got to step up for him."

___

Some things to know about the Northwestern-Duke game:

SMOOTH JONES: Duke QB Daniel Jones enters having thrown 198 consecutive passes without an interception, the longest such streak in the nation. He's eight passes shy of matching Thaddeus Lewis' 9-year-old school record. His last pick came at Georgia Tech last Oct. 29, and he's coming off a 213-yard, two-touchdown day against North Carolina Central. "One of the first things a quarterback does well is make the other 10 people on the field do better because of the way he does his job," Cutcliffe said. "If we do that, we'll be competitive in this game."

ACTION JACKSON: Northwestern RB Justin Jackson had his third straight 100-yard performance, rushing for 109 against the Wolf Pack. He's the No. 2 active rusher in the FBS with 4,238 yards, trailing Royce Freeman of Oregon (4,296). Northwestern is 17-4 when he reaches the 100-yard mark.

RUNNING DEVILS: Duke feels pretty good about its situation in the backfield, too. Redshirt freshman RB Brittain Brown (120 yards rushing) is the first Duke player since Desmond Scott in 2009 to crack triple digits in his debut. And starter Shaun Wilson, who has four 50-yard touchdown runs during his career, is the only player in the nation with 80-yard TDs on rushes, receptions and returns.

LET THE KIDS PLAY: The teams combined to play 19 first-year freshmen in their opener. Duke's 10 were its most in Cutcliffe's 10 seasons, surpassing the nine that played in 2012, and included starting DE Victor Dimukeje. Nine of them saw the field for Northwestern, including LT Rashawn Slater, the first freshman offensive lineman to play for the Wildcats since 2009 (Patrick Ward).

___

More AP college football: collegefootball.ap.org and twitter.com/AP_Top25

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