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Northwestern vs. Duke Football Prediction and Preview

Mataeo Durant, Duke Blue Devils Football

Mataeo Durant and the Blue Devils welcome the Wildcats from the Big Ten to Durham

Northwestern and Duke are universities that share a lot in common.

They're both highly regarded academic institutions that have had extended success on the gridiron with their current head coaches. On Saturday, the Wildcats and Blue Devils will meet once again, this time in Durham.

From 2015-18, Northwestern and Duke played each other every year. The Wildcats won the first two matchups, while the Blue Devils won the last two in the series.

Duke (1-1) is coming off its first win of the 2021 college football season, defeating FCS North Carolina A&T 45-17 last Friday. Northwestern (1-1) also got its first win of the year last week in a similar fashion, beating fellow FCS foe Indiana State 24-6 at home.

Saturday will be the 21st time Northwestern and Duke have played each other, with the series split. However, the Wildcats have won seven of the last 10 matchups.

Northwestern at Duke

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 18 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Northwestern -3

When Northwestern Has the Ball

Quarterback Hunter Johnson leads the Northwestern offense and he has been fairly efficient so far. Johnson is completing 66.1 percent of his passes for 349 yards, four touchdowns, and an interception.

However, it was running back Evan Hull and the ground game that was the catalyst against Indiana State. Hull rushed for 51 yards and a touchdown on the first possession and 106 yards in the first half.

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Hull finished with 126 yards and two scores while Johnson ended up with just 66 passing yards. This weekend, expect Johnson to be more of a factor while Hull should get his opportunities. Duke gave up 324 passing yards in its season-opening loss to Charlotte.

When Duke Has the Ball

The Blue Devils have leaned heavily on Mataeo Durant, who leads the ACC in rushing. With 296 yards in two games, Durants also is tops in the ACC in scoring, touchdowns, rushing touchdowns, and all-purpose yards.

In fact, Durant's six scores (all on the ground) are the most by any player in the country, and his 186 all-purpose yards per game are second in the nation behind Missouri's Tyler Badie. Durant is averaging nearly eight yards per touch, which is excellent news heading into the game against Northwestern.

The Wildcats were gashed on the ground by Michigan State's Kenneth Walker III in the season opener, as the Wake Forest transfer piled up 264 yards and four touchdowns on 23 carries. If Durant is able to enjoy similar success that will take a lot of pressure off the Duke passing attack. Quarterback Gunnar Holmberg has been solid (498 yards, 71.4 percent passing) thus far but he has thrown just one touchdown pass in the first two games.

Final Analysis

Northwestern and Duke were both able to recover last week after season-opening losses. Now someone will look to continue this momentum in a key non-conference matchup. The game could come down to the team that protects the ball the best.

Duke's defense has yet to record a turnover this season. More importantly, last week's win over FCS North Carolina A&T was the first the Blue Devils didn't turn the ball over themselves in 20 games. Last season, their -19 turnover margin was seven worse than any other program.

Northwestern's defense will be the best Duke has faced this season. While this could be a low-scoring affair, expect the Wildcats to control the clock and run the football effectively.

Prediction: Northwestern 24, Duke 20

Podcast: Complete Week 3 Preview and Predictions + Picks Against the Spread

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.