Duke overwhelms Northwestern to move to 2-0

Duke Devils wide receiver T.J. Rahming (3) celebrates after a big gain against Northwestern during the Blue Devils' 41-17 last week (Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports)

DURHAM — In the days leading up to Saturday’s game against Northwestern, Duke players were adamant that this year wasn’t a repeat of last season.

Blue Devils follow up 60-point opener with a 41-17 win

There were certainly some similarities: The Blue Devils trounced an overmatched NC Central team in the opener, just like last season. All blowout wins are not created equal, though.

“We weren’t happy with the way we played in the second half against Central last year,” defensive back Bryon Fields said. “This year, we played a complete game.”

The difference showed up in week two. Last year, Duke lost at home to Wake Forest, then suffered another loss at Northwestern.

Hosting Northwestern in its second game this year, Duke served notice to the ACC that this is not last year’s Blue Devils team.

The Blue Devils pounded a Wildcats team that was expected to contend for a divisional title in the Big Ten, blowing out Northwestern 41-17.

Coupled with last week’s 60-7 win over NC Central, the Blue Devils have put up 101 points in two weeks, the first time they’ve cracked the century mark in two games since 1945, when Duke beat South Carolina 60-0, then won 76-0 over Bogue Field.

Duke put together a complete game, dominating Northwestern on offense, defense and special teams.

“That is so much fun to watch,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “Our players, we obviously made them very aware that’s how you win football games. I love the fact that they’re so bought in, they are a team. It’s not an offense, it’s not a defense, it’s not a certain phase of the kicking game. They really have bought into that fact and it’s fun to see a team go out and win a football game.”

Quarterback Daniel Jones threw for 305 yards and rushed for 108, becoming just the second Blue Devil in school history to put together a 300/100 game. He threw for two scores and rushed for two more.

“We were able to spread them out,” Cutcliffe said. “T.J. [Rahming], Chris [Taylor] and those guys on the outside were really able to open up the running game and really gave (the running backs) lanes to run through. That’s credit to the offensive line, wearing them away and doing a really good job imposing their will on a good football team.”

Rahming finished with 12 catches for 127 yards. Taylor caught a 52-yard touchdown pass from Jones that put Northwestern down double digits.

On defense, Duke held Northwestern to 22 rushing yards and sacked quarterback Slayton Thorson four times. Blue Devils defensive back Mark Gilbert added a pair of interceptions.

“Mark Gilbert is going to be really special,” said defensive back Alonzo Saxton II, who forced and recovered a fumble for Duke. “He’s already really special. We expect big things from him. Even though he’s young, he plays like a senior. I expect that to happen every game with him because he really gets after the wide receivers.”

With the win, Duke jumped out to a 2-0 record on the season for the fourth time in the last five years. The win also goes a long way toward simplifying the Blue Devils’ bowl math, as Duke now needs just four wins in the last 10 to end their one-year bowl drought.

Duke also posted a win over a Northwestern team that had been a nemesis on recent non-conference schedules. The Wildcats had won the last three contests, dating back to the last Duke win, in 2007.

“We were working on all cylinders,” said Saxton. “Going into the game, we knew what they wanted to do. We’ve played them three years in a row so we were really prepared. We knew what we had to do to win and it was all about executing, and we did that.”