THE MATCHUP: PITT (2-5) VS DUKE (4-3)
WHEN: 12:20 P.M. EST
WHERE: WALLACE WADE STADIUM, DURHAM, NC
HOW TO WATCH: ACC NETWORK
HOW TO LISTEN: 93.7 THE FAN & THE PITT IMG SPORTS NETWORK
The opinions on Pitt’s 2017 season, along with the overall state of the program, are many and wide-ranging. No matter where you fall on the panic meter, though, there is one thing on which everyone can agree:
Pitt needs a victory over an FBS, Power-5 opponent this season, and they need one soon.
On Saturday, the Panthers will receive their next crack at defeating such an opponent when they travel to Durham, N.C. to face the Duke Blue Devils.
Under head coach David Cutcliffe, Duke began the season strong with four consecutive victories, including wins over Northwestern, Baylor and North Carolina. However, the Blue Devils have dropped their last three to Miami, Virginia and Florida State, tempering the excitement created by such a promising start. Their three-game skid is far from a midseason collapse, though. Aside from a 25-point loss to Miami, Duke fell to UVA and FSU by seven points apiece, leaving them fourteen points from a 6-1 record.
Record aside, this is a much improved team over the one Pitt defeated 56-14 at Heinz Field last year, especially on defense. In previous years, a preview of Duke would typically begin with their offense. But in 2017, the Blue Devils’ defense deserves the first look.
Duke’s defense operates out of a base 4-2-5 formation, preferring a three-safety approach in the secondary. Their 312.9 yards allowed-per-game ranks 19th in the FBS, and their 19.6 points allowed-per-game comes in at 27th. Conceding 108.0 yards-per-game on the ground (16th in the FBS), the Blue Devils present another tough matchup for a Panthers’ run game seeking a breakout performance.
Duke has also demonstrated the ability to pressure the quarterback and force interceptions, which can be a deadly combination for a team with inconsistency at the quarterback position. The Blue Devils’ 3.17 sacks-per-game is tied for 16th in the FBS, while their 12 interceptions are tied for 2nd. And when they do intercept the ball, Duke knows how to make a quarterback really regret his misfire; their 4 interception returns for touchdowns leads the FBS and ties them for 1st in total defensive touchdowns scored.
Leading the pressure up front is defensive tackle Mike Ramsay, who has 4.5 sacks and 8 tackles-for-loss. Sophomore defensive end Tre Hornbuckle provides additional penetration with 8.5 tackles-for-loss, although he has only sacked the opposing quarterback once this season. Also, watch for Victor Dimukeje, a Pitt target in the last recruiting cycle. The defensive end is impacting games as a true freshman, registering 21 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks.
In the middle of their defense, the Blue Devils boast a productive pair of linebackers in Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys. Giles-Harris, who earned honorable mention All-ACC honors in 2016, is on his way to more than “honorable mention” status this season. The redshirt-sophomore Will linebacker has 67 total tackles, 10.5 tackles-for-loss, 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble and 1 interception. Humphreys, a third-team All-ACC selection last season, has 37 total tackles, 7 tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 interception and 1 touchdown from the Mike linebacker position.
At corner, Duke has a duo capable of playing the ball and making impact plays. Mark Gilbert has excelled in 2017, with his 4 interceptions tied for 5th in the FBS, and his 1.6 passes defended-per-game tied for 13th. Across from him is Bryon Fields, Jr., who has 3 interceptions of his own. Of those 3 interceptions, the redshirt senior has returned 2 for touchdowns, giving him 4 pick-sixes in his career.
Rounding out Duke’s defense are three safeties: Jeremy McDuffie, Alonzo Saxon II and Jordan Hayes. McDuffie, the Strike safety, is tied for 13th in the FBS with 1.6 passes defended-per-game after transitioning from corner to safety in the spring. Returning Rover safety, Alonzo Saxton II, is second on the team in tackles with 52, and has 3 tackles-for-loss, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery. And Bandit safety Jordan Hayes has 36 tackles and 4 passes broken up.
On the other side of the ball, Duke fields a much less daunting unit. The Blue Devils’ 399.9 total yards-per-game ranks 69th in the FBS, with their 190.4 rushing yards-per-game serving as the relative strength (ranked 41st). Their 28.4 points-per-game is tied for 70th, and they have scored just 37 total points in the last three weeks.
Daniel Jones returns at quarterback after earning ACC Rookie of the Week honors on four occasions last year. Jones has completed 143 of 257 passes for 1,398 yards, 6 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. The 6-foot-5-inch, 215-pounder also functions as one of the Blue Devils’ top rushers with 72 carries for 209 yards and 3 touchdowns.
For the second straight season, 5-foot-10-inch, 165-pound T.J. Rahming is Jones’ top target. The junior has 36 receptions for 425 yards, but has yet to reach the endzone. Behind Rahming in the pecking order is receiver Johnathan Lloyd, who has 23 receptions for 238 yards and 1 touchdown.
At running back, the Blue Devils disperse their carries between two primary ball carriers: senior Shaun Wilson and redshirt freshman Brittain Brown. Wilson, the returning starter, has 88 carries for 506 yards and 5 touchdowns. Brown is not far behind him with 78 carries for 470 yards and 3 touchdowns. With Wilson averaging 5.8 yards-per-carry and Brown averaging 6.0 yards-per-carry, the two do more than chip away at defenses 2-to-3 yards at a time.
Lastly, the offensive line returns three starters from 2016, but the group has experienced mixed results this year. While they have made way for Duke’s solid rushing attacked, the offensive line has allowed 19 sacks in pass protection – the same total conceded by Pitt.
|Points Per Game||23.3||31.4||28.4||19.6|
|Yards Gained Rushing||1014||1388||1524||1007|
|Yards Lost Rushing||218||155||191||251|
|Average Yards Per Rush||3.3||4.8||4.4||3.4|
|Average Yards Per Game||113.7||176.1||190.4||108.0|
|Average Yards Per Game||240.4||268.6||209.4||204.9|
|Average Yards Per Play||5.1||6.7||4.9||5.1|
|Average Yards Per Game||354.1||444.7||399.9||312.9|
|KICK RETURNS – RETURN YARDS||22-434||13-234||14-370||24-480|
|PUNT RETURNS – RETURN YARDS||12-212||10-167||10-40||11-62|
|INTERCEPTION – RETURN YARDS||6-68||5-60||12-198||6-62|
|KICK RETURN AVERAGE||19.7||18.0||26.4||20.0|
|PUNT RETURN AVERAGE||17.7||16.7||4.0||5.6|
|INTERCEPTION RETURN AVERAGE||11.3||12.0||16.5||10.3|
|FUMBLES – FUMBLES LOST||8-5||8-5||8-3||6-2|
|PENALTIES – YARDS||24-231||30-242||37-348||46-434|
|Average Per Game||33.0||34.6||49.7||62.0|
|PUNTS – YARDS||36-1612||33-1378||41-1684||48-2177|
|Net Yards Per Punt||38.5||35.3||35.7||43.7|
|TIME OF POSSESSION PER GAME||31:59||28:01||32:15||27:45|
|4th Down Percentage||64%||60%||64%||30%|
|SACKS BY – YARDS||9-64||19-166||21-141||19-124|
|Saxton II, Alonzo||27||52||3.0||1||1||0||1.0|
On the injury front, Duke has remained relatively healthy this season, and only backup center Will Taylor is expected to miss Saturday’s matchup.
For Pitt, the injury report remains the same as it appeared last week. The following players are listed as “out” against Duke: Max Browne, George Aston, Colton Lively, Tre Tipton, Michael Vardzel, Anthony McKee Jr., Quintin Wirginis and Malik Henderson. Also, Chawntez Moss is not included on the depth chart due to suspension.
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN
Pitt versus Duke kicks off at 12:20 Saturday afternoon at Wallace Wade Stadium. The game will be aired on the ACC Network 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.