Two weeks after beating perennial Pac-12 contender Stanford to open the 2015 season with a bang, Northwestern scored another huge non-conference win Saturday.
The 23rd-ranked Cats emerged from a road trip to Durham, N.C., with a 19-10 win over Duke, one of the ACC's better teams, keeping their perfect record intact at 3-0.
It was hardly a banner day for offense, but the defenses were both terrific, Northwestern continuing its trend of being stellar against opposing offenses. The Cats finally yielded their first touchdown of the season, though they don't deserve all the blame for it, the score coming after a Clayton Thorson interception set Duke up at the Northwestern 26-yard line.
That touchdown put the Blue Devils in front early, but the offenses both stalled from there, with Northwestern getting a second-quarter field goal to make it a four-point game.
But the Cats got the big play the offense couldn't produce from its special teams, with Solomon Vault returning the opening kickoff of the second half 98 yards for a go-ahead score.
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The teams traded second-half field goals after the Vault kick return before Warren Long went 55 yards on the ground in the fourth quarter for a touchdown to effectively seal the game.
Northwestern's defense was again sensational, keeping Duke out of the end zone following the score on the short field. The Blue Devils gained just 327 total yards of offense and were just 3-for-17 on third down. The Cats forced three turnovers. Linebacker Anthony Walker was again the star of the show, recording a whopping 19 total tackles. Defensive end Dean Lowry had a remarkable tipped interception, and Godwin Igwebuike forced and recovered a fumble.
It was an ugly day for the Northwestern offense, which gained a paltry 271 total yards. Running back Justin Jackson had another big day on the ground with 120 yards on 35 carries. Thorson, though, struggled, completing nine of his 23 passing attempts for just 70 yards and zero touchdowns, throwing a pair of interceptions.
But regardless of how the offense played, it was another excellent win for Northwestern. The Cats are a perfect 3-0 and will surely see their top-25 ranking improve this week. With only Ball State remaining on the non-conference schedule, the Cats have a terrific opportunity to be 4-0 when Big Ten play begins.