Duke earned its mental edge the hard way in its season-opening win over Army.
After losing 21-16 to Army in 2017, the Blue Devils got the better of the Black Knights this time around with a 34-14 win this past Friday.
Duke, however, is in the opposite situation this week heading into its game against Northwestern. The Blue Devils are the ones who beat the Wildcats last season, 41-17, and will be trying to hold them off again this season.
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“Northwestern has had our number in years past,” Duke redshirt senior center Zach Harmon said. “Last year that tide was reversed. We expected them to circle our game on their calendar. We know they are going to want to come in and do to us what we did to them last year. But really once the clock starts you have to stick with your game plan. All the motivation you had beforehand kind of goes out the window. You are really focused on the goal at hand.”
The Blue Devils and Wildcats certainly know each other. This is the fourth season in a row they have met in non-conference play. Northwestern won 19-10 in Durham in 2015 and 24-13 at Evanston, Illinois, in 2016.
Duke played one of its finest games of last season to post its first win of the four-game contract. The deal concludes with this Saturday’s game. After two years off, the schools begin another set of four games in four years in 2021.
“This is somewhat of a rivalry,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “There are a lot of the same players on the field. The last time we were up there, we got beat. So we haven’t forgotten that either. We have a lot of the same folks going back. So let’s gather ourselves together and see what we’re made of too. I would expect us to be a very hungry football team.”
During a Tuesday press conference, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald and his players acknowledged that Duke played far better when the teams met last season. Other than that, Fitzgerald said “I mean, the rear-view mirror is the rear-view mirror” and he indicated he’d prefer to move on and talk about this year’s team.
“We played like garbage and they played very well and we lost the game,” Fitzgerald said.
Sophomore running back Jeremy Larkin said, ‘It’s always good to go out and try to get revenge but that’s in the past. We want to learn from those mistakes and move forward this week.”
The Wildcats certainly learned from their experience at Duke last season and quickly put those lessons to good use. After starting the season 2-3, Northwestern won its final eight games to finish 10-3.
Northwestern beat Purdue 31-27 in its season opener last Thursday, and is on a nine-game winning streak heading into Saturday’s game in Durham.
So it’s certainly not as if the Blue Devils will overlook or underestimate Northwestern. But Cutcliffe and his staff are working to keep the Blue Devils as mentally charged up for this game as they were for Army last week.
“I think a big part of success in any business is how do you stay hungry?” Cutcliffe said. “That requires mental toughness and it requires preparation either way. We could have been all jacked up to play Army and if we don’t prepare well, it didn’t matter. So our focus has got to be still on Duke and to prepare well.”
Duke at Northwestern
When: Noon, Saturday