Duke built a big lead in the first half and needed all of it to hold off Northwestern

·4 min read

A Duke defense that failed to force a turnover over the season’s first two games picked up the pace in a big way on Saturday.

The Blue Devils feasted on five Northwestern turnovers, including four by Wildcats quarterback Hunter Johnson, in a 30-23 win at Wallace Wade Stadium.

All four of Johnson’s miscues occurred in the first half when Duke built a 30-7 halftime lead. Johnson threw three interceptions and lost a fumble while being sacked in the red zone. He left the game having completed 6 of 16 passes for 75 yards and didn’t play in the second half.

Duke defensive back Lummie Young forced the fumble while recording a sack in the first quarter when Northwestern had the ball on the Duke 2. He later intercepted a Johnson pass.

Duke’s offense took advantage of the extra opportunities, running up 558 yards of total offense. Running back Mataeo Durant rushed for 102 yards on 22 carries and scored the game’s first two touchdowns.

Duke quarterback Gunnar Holmberg completed 31 of 444 passes for 314 yards with a touchdown.

Northwestern backup quarterback Andrew Marty rallied the Wildcats after replacing Johnson in the second quarter. He completed 11 of 16 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns. His 1-yard touchdown run with 10:21 left in the third quarter cut Duke’s lead to 30-20.

But Marty was injured in the fourth quarter when he lost a fumble in Duke territory for the Wildcats’ fifth turnover.

Ryan Hilinski became the third Northwestern quarterback to play in the game. He drove Northwestern to the Duke 7 before Charlie Kuhbander booted a 25-yard field goal with 2:48 to play slicing Duke’s lead to 30-23.

Northwestern kicked the ball to rather than attempting a onside kick. Duke foiled that when Holmberg completed a third-down pass to Eli Pancol and the Blue Devils ran out the clock.

Duke rolled through the first half, eclipsing the 400-yard mark on total offense to take a 30-7 lead to intermission.

The Blue Devils were on top early as Durant scored two touchdowns in the game’s first four minutes. Durant caught a short pass from Holmberg and ran 11 yards to the end zone for a touchdown giving Duke a 7-0 lead.

With 11:07 to play in the first quarter, Durant’s 21-yard touchdown put Duke up 14-0.

Both teams turned the ball over in their own red zones in the first quarter, with Durant fumbling into the end zone and Johnson fumbling when he was sacked by Lummie Young.

When freshman quarterback Jordan Moore scored on a 9-yard run with 12 seconds left in the first quarter, the Blue Devils had a 21-0 lead.

Charlie Ham’s three second-quarter field goals, including a 50-yarder, extended Duke’s lead to 30-7.

First down

Duke recorded 420 yards of total offense in the first half alone while building its 30-7 lead. For comparison, Duke’s averaged 379.4 yards per game (next to last among the ACC’s 15 teams) last season while going 2-9.

Offsides

As well as Duke played, particularly in the first half, the Blue Devils still showed sloppiness the coaches will certainly want to clean up. Durant’s fumble into the end zone was the second time the Blue Devils have turned the ball over in the red zone this season. Among Duke’s nine penalties were two dead-ball fouls. Defensive lineman Christian Rorie and center Jack Wohlabaugh each were called for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.

Touchdown

Mataeo Durant’s two touchdowns gave him eight for the season, including seven via the rush. Three games in, he’s got a good start toward the school record for rushing touchdowns in a season (13 by Brandon Connette in 2013 and Winston Seigfried in 1941).

ICYMI

Duke’s defense received a boost when defensive tackle Gary Smith returned to the starting lineup. Smith, a 6-2, 320-pound sophomore, was a projected starter before having arthroscopic knee surgery last month. He didn’t play in Duke’s first two games of the season.

Key numbers

3: Duke turnovers in the game. One week after playing their first turnover-free game since 2019, the Blue Devils lost two fumbles and one interception.

90: Passes Duke’s Gunnar Holmberg threw this season before his first interception.

109: Receiving yards by Duke senior wide receiver Jake Bobo, his first time surpassing 100 receiving yards in his career. Bobo caught 11 passes.

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