Big Game Hunting: Will Northwestern avenge last season’s blowout loss to Duke?
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There’s only one way to take a score like 41-17. It’s beyond one-sided. It reeks off a beatdown. It oozes blowout.
A year after the fact, what losing coach would want to reminisce about a miserable day like that?
Duke at Northwestern (11 a.m., ESPNU, 720-AM) has come around for the fourth year in a row. Though the Wildcats are 2-1 against the Blue Devils during that time, they remember all too well the disaster that unfolded on the road in 2017.
‘‘We played like garbage and they played great, and we lost the game,’’ NU coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
He didn’t have much to add at his weekly news conference, and who can blame him?
Both teams are 1-0. The Wildcats, on a nine-game winning streak overall — the longest in the Power Five ranks — are three-point favorites Saturday, but the streak will be stopped cold if they don’t do a far better job against quarterback Daniel Jones. The 6-5, 220-pound Jones threw for 305 yards and rushed for 108 and had four total touchdowns against them last season.
As impressive as those stats are, they don’t adequately paint a picture of how off-balance NU’s defense was. The Wildcats looked to be guessing — and guessing wrong — all game, with Jones deftly steering Duke’s run-pass option system. Jones was on point on short passing plays, getting the ball out quickly and finding T.J. Rahming for 12 hookups. Rahming will have to be contended with again, too.
No doubt, though, NU has evolved into a far better team than it was that day at Wallace Wade Stadium. Jones will see a defense that attacks more and, Fitzgerald hopes, continues to tackle better.
Fitzgerald calls it ‘‘sitting in a rocking chair.’’ Imagine a defender in a stationary position, crouched and waiting for a ball-carrier to arrive. There was a lot of that in the game last season. That can’t be the case again.
‘‘Give them a camera and let them take pictures, right?’’ Fitzgerald said sarcastically. ‘‘I can take great pictures from five yards away.’’
Instead, he wants his players to attack the Blue Devils — and Jones, especially.
‘‘Go eat,’’ he said. ‘‘Go eat.’’
Jones, a junior and a three-year starter, isn’t the only quarterback in this matchup who is thought to have NFL potential. The Wildcats have senior Clayton Thorson in charge of their offense for the fourth consecutive season.
The similarly built Thorson is a better downfield thrower than Jones, but he still has rust to knock off after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in December. Thorson’s effectiveness waned in the second half of NU’s victory last week at Purdue.
Which team wins? If Thorson’s line gives him time to make good decisions, the Wildcats will be in fine shape — because we already know their defense is going to kick the rocking chair aside and do some eating. NU by a touchdown.
No. 15 Michigan State at Arizona State (9:45 p.m., ESPN) begs at least a couple of questions: Are the Spartans (1-0) — favored by six — as shoddy against the pass as they looked in a 38-31 opening victory against Utah State? And is the surprising Herman Edwards experiment going to work for the Sun Devils (1-0)?
Because it’s a new law in college football to quote the exuberant Edwards at every opportunity, here’s his take on the Spartans:
‘‘Put your big-boy pants on because they’re going to run the football.’’
They’re going to throw it, too. MSU 34, ASU 24.
Only two Top 25 matchups this week, involving four teams that won their openers: No. 3 Georgia at No. 24 South Carolina (2:30 p.m., Ch. 2) and No. 17 USC at No. 10 Stanford (7:30 p.m., Fox-32). Note: South Carolina types hate that people outside the South use ‘‘USC’’ in reference to the Trojans but not to the Gamecocks. Oh, well.
Maybe the Gamecocks, 10-point underdogs, can take it out on their hotshot visitors. Will Muschamp’s team is experienced and hungry. Georgia is breaking in a lot of new starters. Upset alert? Tempting. Bulldogs, 24-20.
And Stanford — its pass rush too much, too soon for Trojans freshman quarterback JT Daniels — covers the 4½.
No. 2 Clemson at Texas A&M (6 p.m., ESPN) could be off-the-charts exciting, given the combo of the inimitable Kyle Field atmosphere and the Tigers being the highest-ranked nonconference opponent in history to play there. A prime-time game at Kyle? In Jimbo Fisher’s first big game as coach of the Aggies? A&M, a 12½-point underdog, keeps it close until the Tigers pull away in the fourth quarter and win 34-20.
My favorite favorite: Minnesota -2 vs. Fresno State (7:30 p.m., FS1). Jeff Tedford’s Bulldogs are trending upward, but the Gophers’ running game is in for a good night.
My favorite underdog: Rutgers (+36) at No. 4 Ohio State (2:30 p.m., BTN). Pretty sure not taking 36 points in a conference game is an NCAA violation.
Last week: 3-2 straight up, 2-3 against the spread.
Season to date: 3-2 straight up, 2-3 against the spread.
BALL STATE AT NO. 8 NOTRE DAME
The facts: 2:30 p.m., Ch. 5, AM-1000.
The records: Ball State 1-0, Notre Dame 1-0.
The story line: As Irish coach Brian Kelly sees it, his players’ preparation for this game isn’t about the opposition. “We play Ball State,” he said, “but for them it’s a nameless, faceless opponent in the way they go to work every day.” There’s a joke in there about Ball State football being nameless and faceless, period, but you won’t read it here. This is the first-ever meeting between the Indiana programs. Expect a heavy dose of running back Jafar Armstrong, who was outstanding in the opening victory over Michigan but is still learning the position.
The line: Irish by 34½.
Greenberg’s pick: Notre Dame, 52-14.
WESTERN ILLINOIS AT ILLINOIS
The facts: 6:30 p.m., BTN, FM-104.3.
The records: WIU 0-1, Illinois 1-0.
The story line: Illinois is 16-0 against lower-division foes, but the highly regarded Leathernecks made the FCS playoffs last season. Look at it another way — they probably aren’t less formidable than Kent State, a lightly regarded MAC team that took the Illini to the limit last weekend. In part to help avoid what would be a truly embarrassing defeat, Illinois is letting all students in free of charge. At a night game, that could have a fun effect on the atmosphere.
The line: No line.
Greenberg’s pick: Illinois, 34-28.
UTAH AT NORTHERN ILLINOIS
The facts: 6:30 p.m., ESPNews, AM-560.
The records: Utah 1-0, NIU 0-1.
The story line: So, who thought it would be a good idea for the Huskies to play a murderer’s row of non-conference opponents? Things were rough at Iowa last weekend, when the offense got next to nothing done. And the Utes — who received the most votes of any team not in the current AP Top 25 — probably are a step up from the Hawkeyes. NIU’s biggest advantage simply is having the home field, a real oddity for a MAC school when playing a Power Five school.
The line: Utes by 10½.
Greenberg’s pick: Utah, 30-17.