Panthers Look to Get Back On Track in Road Matchup Versus Duke

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

I was very concerned last week even before kickoff.  I knew that Pitt did not match up well against the Miami Hurricanes.  Sure, the Hurricanes were a 3-4 team, with a freshman quarterback, and a lousy defense.  However, those things do not matter in matchups against Pitt this season.  The only thing that seems to matter anymore is if the opposing team has a good passing attack and skill players that will not make mistakes.  We, as Pitt fans, found out quickly that Miami has just that.

Fortunately, Pitt’s opponent this weekend does not.  In fact, when Pitt takes on the Duke Blue Devils on Saturday in Durham, it will be the weakest ACC opponent they have faced, and will face, all season.  The Blue Devils aren’t particularly good at anything.  In ACC play they have only scored more than seven points once and that was against a Georgia Tech defense that the Panthers dismantled in their ACC opener.

Weak Defensively

In addition to not scoring many points in ACC play, Duke gives up a ton.  In conference and nonconference games this season, Duke has allowed 31.6 points per game and when they do play ACC opponents, they are giving up 40.5 points per game.  Even more advantageous for Pitt is Duke's inability to stop the pass.  In their most recent matchups, the Blue Devils gave up 364 passing yards to Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong in an embarrassing 48-0 loss and then were humiliated again by Wake Forest, losing 45-7 and giving up 402 passing yards to Demon Deacon sophomore Sam Hartman.

Also, if Kenny Pickett misses the plane, that’s okay too because the Blue Devils are giving up a ton of rushing yards as well.  Wake Forest racked up 267 rushing yards as a team, Virginia 110, and North Carolina rushed for 130 yards against Duke.  Like I said, the Duke Blue Devils do not do many things well.

Run First Offense

One thing, Duke can hang their hats on is their ability to run the football.  Senior Mataeo Durant has rushed for over 100 yards in 6 of Duke’s 8 games.  However, they always down so quickly that running the ball actually works to their detriment.  While they have the ability to do so, it does not behoove the Blue Devils to run the ball in the 2nd half because they are typically down 20+. 

Senior quarterback Gunnar Holmberg had shown the ability to pass earlier in the season but has lost that ability as of late.  Aside from the game against Georgia Tech, Holmberg has been held to under 200 passing yards in each of their other three conference games.  If Duke’s nonconference stats were stripped from their offense, it’d be all but non-existent.

For all of these reasons, I think this is a very good matchup for Pitt.  A team that does not pass especially well and cannot defend the pass at all is extremely favorable for the Panthers.  Pat Narduzzi also showed he does not take losses lightly especially when they have the opportunity to show up a weaker opponent the week after.  After Pitt lost to Western Michigan in their third game of the season, the Panthers piled on New Hampshire in their next game, beating them 77-7.  28 of those points were scored in the 2nd half.  Pitt only let up after taking a 70-7 lead into the 4th quarter. 

I see this being a similar caliber defense to that of New Hampshire.  They have shown no ability to stop any offenses and I believe Pitt’s offense to be one of the best in the nation.  They also have a Heisman level quarterback in fifth-year senior Kenny Pickett. 

These games between Duke and Pitt are always typically high scoring, and even if the Blue Devils will not add many points to the final score, I expect Pitt to add points in droves.  While this may have been a trap game had Pitt beaten Miami, that loss will keep the Panthers focused.  There may be an absolute bloodbath in Durham and Pitt may lay 77 points again like they did against New Hampshire.  The only thing really stopping them is Duke running the clock out on themselves because all they can do offensively is run the football.