DURHAM, N.C. — It all looked routine for No. 21 Duke on Saturday. Just the way the rising Blue Devils like it.
Riley Leonard ran for two touchdowns and threw for 219 yards to lead Duke to a 38-14 win over Northwestern.
“We started fast. We got a lead,” Duke coach Mike Elko said. “That’s what you want to do in a game like this.”
Jordan Waters also ran for two touchdowns and Jalon Calhoun caught five passes for 112 yards as the Blue Devils (3-0, 1-0 ACC) opened the season with three straight wins for the second year in a row.
Duke hasn’t been threatened in the strong start to Elko’s second season.
“If we keep playing how we are, I think we’re going to be fine,” cornerback Chandler Rivers said.
Leonard rushed for 97 yards and completed 15 of 20 passes in just over three quarters.
Northwestern quarterback Ben Bryant was 17-for-34 for 123 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The Wildcats (1-2, 0-1 Big Ten) had 267 yards of total offense, with 90 of those in the fourth quarter.
“It’s OK for it to sting,” Northwestern interim coach David Braun said. “We’re going to play a much better brand of next Saturday.”
The Blue Devils put together 80- and 94-yard touchdown drives in the third quarter, both ending on Leonard’s short runs. Duke, which didn’t punt until the fourth quarter, had 268 rushing yards.
“Anytime you’re giving up that many yards on the ground, it’s going to be hard to have an effective day,” Braun said. “When they’re staying on schedule, standing in rhythm, they are a very dangerous operation.”
Leonard made more nifty moves with the ball and that’s something that the Blue Devils continue to benefit from.
“He makes a ton of plays,” Elko said. “It doesn’t surprise you, but it’s certainly impressive.”
Waters had the game’s first two touchdowns on runs of 24 and 2 yards. It was 17-0 after Todd Pelino’s 35-yard field goal less than 21 minutes into the game.
Northwestern scored on A.J. Henning’s 14-yard pass from Bryant with :34 to play in the first half, pulling within 17-7.
Duke hadn’t allowed a second-half point this season until Northwestern’s late touchdown.
Northwestern has lost 13 consecutive true road games. … Leonard completed all 12 of his passes a week earlier against Lafayette, but his first toss of the Northwestern game was incomplete. His streak of completions was at 15 passes because he connected on his last three throws in the Labor Day upset of Clemson.
The only blotch on Duke’s outing came on third-down defense. The Wildcats converted on 10 of 18 chances.
Northwestern was 3-for-3 on third-down pickups in a drive of nearly 8½ minutes late in the second quarter.
“We have to be a little bit better on third down,” Elko said. “I think that’s one of our biggest challenges right now.”
Northwestern: The Wildcats were in danger of failing to reach a double-digit point total for the second time this season until backup quarterback Brendan Sullivan’s 10-yard run with 1:27 remaining. It’s not like penalties were a problem because Northwestern wasn’t hit with a flag until the fourth quarter.
Duke: The Blue Devils were versatile on offense, rolling up more than 200 yards on the ground and in the air. They also avoided any fourth-quarter drama and that has been a nice trend in the first few weeks of the season.
Duke should hold steady in the rankings after three home victories. The closest margin was 28-7 over Clemson in the opener.
Northwestern: Home Saturday vs. Minnesota
Duke: Saturday at Connecticut
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