THE MATCHUP: PITT (6-4) VS DUKE (4-6)
WHEN: 3:00 P.M. EST
WHERE: HEINZ FIELD, PITTSBURGH, PA
HOW TO WATCH: ROOT SPORTS; ACC NETWORK
HOW TO LISTEN: 93.7 THE FAN & THE PITT IMG SPORTS NETWORK
How can Pitt follow up on their road victory over the second ranked Clemson Tigers?
By not losing their next game. That’s how.
After suffering consecutive losses to Virginia Tech and Miami, Pitt regained momentum heading into their final two games with what will be remembered as one of the biggest victories in program history. Now, they must shift their focus towards maintaining that momentum on Saturday when the Duke Blue Devils visit Heinz Field.
Head Coach David Cutcliffe and his Duke Blue Devils present a drastically different team than last week’s opponent. When previewing Clemson, practically every positional group featured All-ACC performers and future NFL draft picks. Duke, on the other hand, returns just one All-ACC performer from 2015 (safety DeVon Edwards, honorable mention All-ACC), and he is out for the season. However, just because Duke lacks a bevy of nationally renowned players does not mean that Panther fans should slate Saturday as an automatic victory. Last week, Duke defeated then-15th ranked North Carolina in their annual rivalry game, 28-27. Aside from a 14-point loss to Virginia, Duke’s losses have all been decided by 10-points or fewer, including a 10-point defeat to the heavily favored Louisville Cardinals. Having witnessed three narrow losses themselves, Panther fans can appreciate just how easily a three-point loss can swing the other way.
On offense, Duke ranks right around the middle of the country in both passing and rushing production. Duke averages 173.9 yards-per-game through the air, ranking 67th nationally. On the ground, they average 231.8 yards-per-game, which also ranks 67th in the nation. When it comes to scoring, they fall closer to the bottom third of the country, ranking 94th overall with 24.5 points per-game.
Duke’s defense, which operates out of a 4-2-5 base formation, ranks slightly higher than their offense. They allow 224.4 passing yards-per-game (59th), 170.3 rushing yards-per-game (70th), and 24.2 points-per-game (42nd).
Here are the Blue Devils that Panther fans should know heading into Saturday afternoon:
Daniel Jones, Quarterback: Duke lost redshirt senior and team captain Thomas Sirk prior to the season, leaving the quarterback position in doubt. Enter Daniel Jones. Jones, a 6’5” 210-pound redshirt freshman, has been one of the ACC’s most impressive rookies in 2016. He has earned ACC Rookie of the Week honors three times, including last week when he played an integral role in Duke’s upset of UNC. Through the air, Jones has completed 208 of 334 passes for 2,277 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. His interception total is somewhat deceptive though, since five of his interceptions came in one game against Virginia. Instead of allowing a 5 interception performance to derail his season, Jones has rebounded nicely, throwing just 1 interception in the past 5 games.
David Cutcliffe’s offense also requires its quarterbacks to frequently contribute in the running game. Jones has rushed for over 90-yards in each of his past two games, and is the Blue Devils’ second leading rusher with 116 carries for 469 yards and 7 touchdowns. His athleticism can extend passing plays as well, which is useful when playing behind the nation’s 81st ranked offensive line in sacks allowed per game.
T.J. Rahming, Wide Receiver: The Panther’s defense now ranks second to last nationally in passing yards allowed per game. Any opponent’s top receiver poses a threat at this point, and sophomore T.J. Rahming is Daniel Jones’ number one target by 21 receptions. At 5’10” 165-pounds, Rahming may not possess elite size, but his stature does not hinder his production. On the season, he holds 50 catches for 509 yards and 1 touchdown. Rahming is also coming off of his best performance in 2016, when he recorded his first 100-yard performance of the year.
Erich Schneider, Tight End: When 6’5” 200-pound receiver Anthony Nash broke his clavicle against Louisville, the Blue Devils needed another tall target to emerge for Daniel Jones. At 6’7” 240-pounds, Erich Schneider fit the criteria for “tall target,” and he has seen his production increase since Nash’s injury. Overall, he holds 24 receptions for 229 yards and 3 touchdowns on the season.
Shaun Wilson, Running Back: Jela Duncan began the season as Duke’s starting running back. However, Duncan missed the UVA game after sustaining a minor ankle injury. In his place, 5’9” 180-pound junior Shaun Wilson received the start, and he has maintained the starting position ever since. Wilson leads the Blue Devils in rushing with 135 attempts for 556 yards and 6 touchdowns. In Duke’s last three outings, Wilson has reached the endzone in each game, and has surpassed 100-yards rushing twice.
Note, although Jela Duncan did return from his ankle injury, do not expect Wilson to split carries with him on Saturday. Duncan was lost for the season after rupturing his Achilles tendon while celebrating a Blue Devils touchdown against Georgia Tech.
A.J. Wolf, Defensive Tackle: Duke selected four captains entering the 2016 season, and only one has managed to avoid sustaining a season-ending injury. That player is 6’4” 280-pound defensive tackle, A.J. Wolf. The anchor of Duke’s defensive line has 42 tackles, 7.5 tackles-for-loss, 5.5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble.
Ben Humphreys, Linebacker: At the center of Dukes’ defense roams breakout sophomore linebacker Ben Humphreys. The 6’2” 215-pounder holds a team-high 93 tackles, with 10.0 tackles-for-loss, 3.5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, and 1 interception. His 9.3 tackles-per-game are tied for 23rd nationally, and tied for 4th in the conference. The ACC boasts some of the nation’s top tacklers this season, and Humphreys ranks up there with the best.
Joe Giles-Harris, Linebacker: Humphreys isn’t the only breakout linebacker for the Blue Devils this season. Joe Giles-Harris, a 6’2” 220-pound redshirt freshman, has 88 tackles, 9.0 tackles-for-loss, 4.0 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 interception. His performance against North Carolina last week saw Giles-Harris named ACC Co-Linebacker of the Week—an honor he shared with Pitt’s Matt Galambos.
Corbin McCarthy, Safety: Duke needed to replace the 2015 ACC Defensive Player of the Year, safety Jeremy Cash, entering 2016. Corbin McCarthy earned the right to assume that responsibility, and his production thus far as the Blue Devil’s starting Strike safety merits recognition. He has 50 tackles, 11.5 tackles-for-loss, 3.5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble.
Deondre Singleton, Safety: Playing at the Bandit safety position is 3rd year starter Deondre Singleton. Singleton factors significantly into both the Blue Devils’ run and pass defenses. He has 48 tackles, 3.0 tackles-for-loss, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, and a team-high 3 interceptions.
Below is this week’s statistical breakdown:
|Points Per Game||37.6||35.2||24.5||24.2|
|Points Off Turnovers||61||37||45||34|
|Yards Gained Rushing||2368||1360||1985||2023|
|Yards Lost Rushing||228||306||246||320|
|Average Yards Per Rush||5.0||3.3||4.1||4.3|
|Average Yards Per Game||214.0||105.4||173.9||170.3|
|Average Yards Per Pass||8.2||8.5||6.7||8.3|
|Average Yards Per Catch||13.9||13.4||10.8||15.6|
|Average Yards Per Game||212.5||343.4||231.8||224.4|
|Average Yards Per Play||6.2||6.2||5.2||5.9|
|Average Yards Per Game||426.5||448.8||405.7||394.7|
|KICK RETURNS – RETURN YARDS||29-875||43-861||27-710||39-728|
|PUNT RETURNS – RETURN YARDS||11-130||25-213||19-164||15-85|
|INTERCEPTION – RETURN YARDS||7-162||4-12||9-14||9-38|
|KICK RETURN AVERAGE||30.2||20.0||26.3||18.7|
|PUNT RETURN AVERAGE||11.8||8.5||8.6||5.7|
|INTERCEPTION RETURN AVERAGE||23.1||3.0||1.6||4.2|
|FUMBLES – FUMBLES LOST||14-7||12-7||16-12||14-9|
|PENALTIES – YARDS||55-478||65-573||49-389||57-461|
|Average Per Game||47.8||57.3||38.9||46.1|
|PUNTS – YARDS||49-2101||48-1990||55-2172||61-2572|
|Average Yards Per Punt||42.9||41.5||39.5||42.2|
|Net Yards Per Punt||36.5||38.3||36.5||37.5|
|KICKOFFS – YARDS||67-4156||67-4211||44-2658||50-3175|
|Average Yards Per Kick||62.0||62.9||60.4||63.5|
|Net Yards Per Kick||40.2||36.4||41.6||37.8|
|TIME OF POSSESSION PER GAME||32:19||27:41||31:28||28:27|
|4th Down Percentage||64%||65%||35%||18%|
|SACKS BY – YARDS||31-241||8-52||28-153||23-122|
|PAT’S MADE / ATTEMPTED||45/47||41/41||32/33||29/29|
|Saxton II, Alonzo||28||46||2.0||1||2||1||1.0|
With the loss of Jordan Whitehead, Pitt fans might feel like the most injury stricken team in the country. However, Duke may actually top the Panthers in that department. As previously stated, three of their four captains heading into the season have been lost for the season: quarterback Thomas Sirk, running back Jela Duncan, and safety DeVon Edwards. 6’5” 200-pound receiver Anthony Nash, a player with the size to execute the back-shoulder fade that has haunted the Panther’s secondary, is out with a broken clavicle. Linebacker Tinashe Bere, defensive tackle Zach Morris, and punter Austin Parker will miss the remainder of 2016. Also, starting cornerback Breon Borders is expected to miss Saturday afternoon’s matchup.
For Pitt, Jordan Whitehead, Chawntez Moss, Phillipie Motley, Tre Tipton, and Zach Challingsworth have all been ruled out for Saturday. Meanwhile, Tyrique Jarrett and Amir Watts are listed as doubtful.
Saturday’s ACC showdown at Heinz Field kicks off at 3 p.m. The game will be aired on Root Sports and can be heard on 93.7 the Fan. As always, Pittsburgh Sports Now and its staff will provide in-game updates and observations via Twitter.
In college football, it is not about how you begin the season; it is about how you perform down the stretch that captures the nation’s attention. Defeating Duke and Syracuse could lead to a top-25 ranking and a quality bowl game for the Panthers. Additionally, last weekend’s upset generated positive feedback from many of Pitt’s top remaining recruiting targets in the 2017 and 2018 classes. While finishing the season strong will not define Pat Narduzzi’s legacy at Pitt, it may expedite the time it takes for him to build a team that can win the ACC Coastal Division.
But don’t forget: Duke needs a strong finish to their season, too. They can still earn bowl eligibility by season’s end, but not without going through the Panthers first.