Three takeaways from No. 21 Duke football’s 38-14 win over Northwestern on Saturday

Duke continued its dominance of Northwestern on Saturday, riding two rushing touchdowns each from Riley Leonard and Jordan Waters to a 38-14 win over the Wildcats at Wallace Wade Stadium.

The No. 21 Blue Devils (3-0) posted their fifth consecutive win over Northwestern as Waters ran for two scores in the first half and Leonard added a pair of second-half touchdowns.

Leonard led the Blue Devils in rushing with 97 yards on 13 carries.

Here are three takeaways from what was an easy win for the Blue Devils:

Duke defense shows toughness

The Blue Devils set a strong tone early, allowing just 33 total yards on Northwestern’s first four possessions while Duke’s offense built a double-digit lead.

For the day, Northwestern finished with 267 total yards producing just 3.8 yards per play. The Blue Devils allowed just 4.74 yards per play over their first two games of the season so that season average will fall.

Duke nearly held its third-consecutive opponent scoreless in the second half before Northwestern scored a garbage-time touchdown 1:27 to play in the fourth quarter. The Blue Devils have allowed just four touchdowns this season.

Duke recorded five tackles for losses, including freshman linebacker Kendall Johnson’s first career sack.

Myles Jones, a graduate transfer from Texas A&M, intercepted a fourth-quarter pass giving him interceptions in consecutive games.

Blue Devils’ balanced, solid offense hard to stop

Duke either scored, reached Northwestern territory — or both — on six of its first eight possessions Saturday. That even includes a truncated four-play drive in the final seconds of the first half.

Leonard’s play is the biggest reason. In addition to his team-leading rushing performance, the junior completed 15 of 20 passes for 219 yards.

Leonard threw six passes toward graduate student wide receiver Jalon Calhoun, who caught five passes for 112 yards. Junior receiver Jordan Moore also caught five passes, gaining 56 yards.

In addition to Leonard’s rushing, running back Jordan Waters gained 65 yards on 10 carries with two first-half touchdowns.

Duke finished with 487 total yards, gaining 268 on the ground and 219 via the pass.

Much cleaner, for the most part

While starting the season with wins over Clemson and Lafayette, Duke was nevertheless plagued with pre-snap penalties and turnovers. The Blue Devils committed seven such penalties while beating Clemson, 28-7, and three more in a 42-7 win over Lafayette.

But on Saturday, Duke easily beat Northwestern while not committing any false starts on offense or jumping offsides on defense.

Similarly, Duke lost two fumbles in its win over Clemson and another while beating Lafayette.

The Blue Devils had no turnovers against Northwestern.

The only nits for the coaching staff to pick about Saturday’s performance would be a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Duke wide receiver Jontavius Robertson was called for one of those penalties, which was negated by an offsetting call on Northwestern, and Duke cornerback Al Blades received an unsportsmanlike penalty for his taunting after a Duke defensive stop.

Here are previous updates from the game:

Jones’ first TD: Duke 38, Northwestern 7

Freshman running back Peyton Jones scored his first career touchdown, an 8-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter, boosting Duke’s lead to 38-7 over the Wildcats.

Leonard scores again: Duke 31, Northwestern 7

Riley Leonard’s second touchdown run of the game, this one from 3 yards, out, gave Duke a 31-7 lead over Northwestern with 3:08 to play in the third quarter.

Leonard TD run: Duke 24, Northwestern 7

Duke quarterback Riley Leonard’s 3-yard touchdown run capped an 80-yard drive on the first possession of the second half to give the Blue Devils a 24-7 lead with 10:01 to play in the third quarter.

Leonard completed all five of his passing attempts on the drive for 64 yards. That included a 20-yard pass to tight end Nicky Dalmolin and a 25-yard connection to Jordan Moore.

Henning TD catch: Duke 17, Northwestern 7

Northwestern finally got on the scoreboard late in the second quarter when A.J. Henning caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Ben Bryant with 34 seconds to go until halftime.

The Wildcats drove 73 yards on 15 plays to score, amassing more than twice as many yards on that one drive as they had the entire game up to that point.

Pelino FG: Duke 17, Northwestern 0

With Duke’s defense shutting down the Wildcats, the Blue Devils offense kept piling on points, adding a 34-yard Todd Pelino field goal for a 17-0 lead with 9:06 remaining until halftime.

Riley Leonard’s 33-yard run to the Northwestern 23 was the drive’s biggest play.

Meanwhile, Northwestern gained only 33 total yards on its first four possessions.

Waters TD run: Duke 14, Northwestern 0

After a drive filled with big plays, Jordan Waters scored his second touchdown of the game on a 2-yard run giving Duke a 14-0 lead over Northwestern with 14:19 to play until halftime.

Duke running back Jaquez Moore broke free on a pair of 15-yard runs early in the drive, which began at the Duke 11. Duke quarterback Riley Leonard completed passes covering 13 yards to Jordan Moore and 34 yards to Jalon Calhoun moving Duke inside the Northwestern 20.

Waters TD run: Duke 7, Northwestern 0

On Duke’s first possession, Jordan Waters scored on a 24-yard touchdown run giving the Blue Devils a 7-0 lead with 11:06 to play in the first quarter. Duke quarterback Riley Leonard completed a 12-yard pass to tight end Nicky Dalmolin prior to Waters’ run.

Pregame update

The good news on the pregame injury report is that defensive back Jeremiah Lewis is available for Duke to face his old teammates.

Lewis was named ACC defensive back of the week for his play in Duke’s 28-7 win over Clemson on Sept. 4. But he suffered a broken thumb and played the entire second half with his left hand in a cast. Lewis didn’t play in Duke’s 42-7 win over Lafayette on Sept. 9 but returned to practice this week and is in uniform and available to play Northwestern, the team he played for last season before transferring back to Duke in July.

Duke will be without two key reserves in running back Jaylen Coleman (upper body) and guard Justin Pickett (upper body). Coleman, who rushed for 84 yards in Duke’s 31-23 win over Northwestern last September, has yet to play this season due to his preseason injury.

With Coleman unavailable, Jordan Waters and Jaquez Moore have shared carries at running back with freshman Peyton Jones also playing in the Lafayette game.

Pickett played 47 snaps over Duke’s first two games this season at left guard but will not be in uniform against Northwestern. The redshirt sophomore has suffered from a variety of injuries throughout this offseason and in preseason practices. His absence leaves Jacob Monk as starting right guard with Maurice McIntyre set to start at left guard with Harvard transfer Scott Elliott starting at center.