NC Football Previews: Duke hosts Northwestern; ECU, App St. try to bounce back

NC Central Eagles running back Dorrel McClain is taken down by Duke Blue Devils linebacker Ben Humphreys (34) and defensive end Tre Hornbuckle (59) in their game Sept. 2 at Wallace Wade Stadium. (Mark Dolejs / USA TODAY Sports)

Northwestern at Duke
Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham  |  Saturday, noon  |  ESPNU

Preview: Northwestern has beaten Duke the last two seasons. Both teams won their openers comfortably.

Players to watch: Northwestern pushed Duke around on the line of scrimmage the last two years. Duke sophomore DE Tre Hornbuckle had 3.5 tackles for loss, two quarterback hits and a forced fumble last week. Northwestern junior Blake Hance started his 23rd straight game last weekend, moving to left guard after playing at tackle his first two years.

Fast fact: This will be their fifth meeting since 2007. That’s more than Duke has played ACC foes Pitt and Florida State (four times); NC State, Clemson and Boston College (three); Syracuse and Louisville (once) over that time. Northwestern has played Duke more since 2007 than Big Ten teams Ohio State (four), Maryland (none) and Rutgers (none) combined.

What to expect: The line battle on both sides of the ball has determined the winner in this series. Duke looks strong on the offensive line. The Blue Devils’ ability to hold its own on defense will be the key.

— Shawn Krest

East Carolina at West Virginia
Mountaineer Field, Morgantown, W.Va.  |  Saturday, noon  |  FS2

Preview: Both teams lost their season openers last week, but that’s where the comparison ends. The 22nd-ranked Mountaineers dropped a close decision to No. 21 Virginia Tech at a neutral site. The Pirates were hammered 34-14 by James Madison.

Players to watch: Duke transfer Thomas Sirk, who came off the bench to throw for 202 yards last Saturday, will make his first ECU start at quarterback. Will Grier, who left Florida two seasons ago after being suspended for a banned substance, threw for 371 yards against Virginia Tech, the most ever by a WVU quarterback in his first game.

Fast fact: Grier is from Davidson, N.C., and his father, Chad, was a backup quarterback to All-American Jeff Blake at ECU in 1990.

What to expect: The Pirates are a 24-point underdog against the Mountaineers in WVU’s home opener, which might be a conservative estimate after ECU allowed 614 yards to an FCS opponent.

— Brett Friedlander

Savannah State at Appalachian State
Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone  |  Saturday, 3:30 p.m.  |  ESPN3

Preview: The Mountaineers (0-1) play their second straight opponent from Georgia in their home opener, this one much less daunting than UGA last week. This is the season opener for Savannah State, a MEAC team that went 3-7 last year.

Players to watch: Quarterback Taylor Lamb led App State in both passing and rushing in last week’s 31-10 loss to Georgia. Junior linebacker Stefen Banks is one of 18 returning starters for Savannah State. He registered 7.5 sacks, 17.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles last season.

Fast fact: Mountaineers coach Scott Satterfield was a redshirt freshman on the 1991 App State team that beat the Tigers 41-6 in Boone in the only previous meeting between the schools.

What to expect: App State should have little trouble bouncing back from its opening loss against an overmatched FCS opponent that has won just 22 of 162 games since 2000.

— Brett Friedlander