If the Big Ten has a reputation for playing physical football, then Northwestern just might be the poster child for them this year. The Wildcats are not fancy, but head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team is well-coached, solid overall, and physical. This is going to be a real challenge for Duke football.
A need to meet the challenge
Saturday’s game might be a physical challenge, but do you know what? If the Blue Devils are to return to respectability on the football field, these are the type of games they are going to have to learn win. Although there are teams out there who are considered more finesse, there are situations where even they have to prove they can play physical football. Duke is going to learn where they stand on the toughness scale at this point in the season and that is a good thing.
There is no room for finesse on defense. Offense, yes. But not defense. The Blue Devils’ front seven is in for a war against a Wildcat offensive line that averages over 300 pounds and is led by tackle Peter Skoronski-an Associated Press first-team preseason All-American. They can not get shoved around. The Duke defensive line and linebackers must be stout against the run and get pressure on Wildcat quarterback Ryan Hilinski.
Throwing down the gauntlet
Duke head coach Mike Elko has challenged his offensive line to be more physical this week. They’re going to need to be, because although the Northwestern defensive line is smallish by Power 5 standards, they’ll give you a bloody nose. They tormented and imposed their will on a much larger Nebraska offensive line in their opening game. The Blue Devils need to use their size to an advantage. Keep leaning on those smaller d-linemen and wear them down as the game progresses. Don’t allow that defensive line to win this battle and turn the Blue Devils one-dimensional because they are not able to run the ball. They also need to protect Riley Leonard so their young quarterback can use his arm to get the ball to that group of playmaking receivers. Veteran Jacob Monk and his mates on the line must meet the challenge put to them by Elko.
This might not turn into the most pretty of games, but these are the type you need to learn to win. Batten down the hatches, cover the kids’ eyes, and cinch up your britches because this one is probably going to be a good old fashioned slobberknocker…and that’s a good thing.