THE MATCHUP: PITT (3-4) VS DUKE (5-2)
WHEN: 3:30 P.M. EST
WHERE: HEINZ FIELD, PITTSBURGH, PA
HOW TO WATCH: AT&T SPORTSNET
HOW TO LISTEN: 93.7 THE FAN & THE PITT IMG SPORTS NETWORK
It may not sound right, but the 3-4 Pitt Panthers remain in the hunt for an ACC championship.
With a 2-1 record against conference opponents, a berth in the ACC championship game – which Pat Narduzzi forecasted before the season – is still possible, especially if Pitt wins out.
On Saturday, the Panthers will face their next conference foe, the Duke Blue Devils, as they look to keep their ACC championship game aspirations alive.
Duke enters Heinz Field this weekend under 11th year head coach, David Cutcliffe. Cutcliffe was reportedly approached by the University of Tennessee regarding its head coaching vacancy this offseason, but elected to stay in Durham. Blue Devils fans should be happy with his decision, as their team is 5-2 overall and enjoying a pretty good season by Duke football standards. Although they fell to their two toughest opponents, Virginia Tech and Virginia, road victories over Northwestern, Baylor and Georgia Tech should not be overlooked. The Blue Devils have even suffered injuries to multiple marquee players, yet they remain one win away from bowl eligibility. However, with both losses coming to in-conference foes, a loss to Pitt will practically eliminate them from ACC Coastal Division contention.
When last seen, Pitt’s defense put forth its best performance of the year, limiting a Notre Dame offense which was in scintillating form. This week, they will face a much less daunting offense in Duke. The Blue Devils average 380.0 yards-per-game (86th in FBS) and 29.4 points-per-game (62nd), both of which are significantly lower totals than those of Syracuse and Georgia Tech – a pair of teams which Pitt has defeated this season. Working out of a spread offense, Duke runs the ball 56% of the time, but only averages 157.9 rushing yards-per-game (83rd).
6-foot-5-inch, 220-pound Daniel Jones returns at quarterback to lead the Blue Devils. Despite missing the Baylor and N.C. Central games due to clavicle surgery, Jones has put forth some solid performances in 2018. He has completed 91-of-141 passes for 9 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, with all 4 interceptions coming after his return from injury. Like many of the quarterbacks that the Panthers have faced this season, Jones is also an athletic, dual-threat talent. In last week’s loss to UVA, Jones led Duke in both rushing attempts (15) and rushing yards (37).
At running back, Brittain Brown and Dean Jackson have an “or” listed by their names at starter, although Brown has not played since sustaining an injury against Virginia Tech. With Brown out, Dean Jackson has become Duke’s feature back, and his 91 rushes for 372 yards and 5 touchdowns are all team-highs. Marvin Hubbard III, another contributor at running back, was lost for the season against Virginia Tech, leaving the Blue Devils rather shallow in its positional depth. If Jackson were to go down against Pitt, Duke may have a hard time finding a suitable replacement.
Senior T.J. Rahming, who was named honorable mention All-ACC in 2017, is back as Jones’ top target in the passing game. The 5-foot-10-inch, 170-pound receiver has troubled Pitt over the past two years, totaling 258 receiving yards and 1 touchdown on 18 receptions. He will look to top 100 yards against the Panthers for the third straight season on Saturday.
Joining Rahming is redshirt-senior Johnathan Lloyd, who ranks second on the team with 25 receptions for 304 yards and 4 touchdowns. And 6-foot-4-inch, 240-pound tight end Davis Koppenhaver doesn’t catch the ball often or for many yards, but the redzone-threat’s 5 touchdown receptions lead the team.
Along the offensive line, starting left tackle Jaylen Miller underwent season-ending ankle surgery this week, dealing a blow to a unit that is breaking in three new starters. Replacing Miller will be redshirt-senior Christian Harris, who began the season as the starter before losing his spot to Miller in week five.
For the second straight year, Duke’s defense is propelling the team’s success. Operating out of a base 4-2-5 formation that features three safeties, the Blue Devils are allowing a respectable 353.7 yards-per-game (tied for 41st in FBS), and they concede just 19.1 points-per-game, which places them at 23rd in the nation.
The Blue Devils may feature three new starters along the defensive line, but they still have depth and experience within the front four. The lone returning starter is sophomore defensive end Victor Dimukeje, an ESPN freshman All-American in 2017. Pat Narduzzi and his staff made a recruiting push for Dimukeje in the class of 2017, and it is easy to see why: the 6-foot-2-inch, 265-pounder has 25 tackles, 6 tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles.
Starting opposite of Dimukeje is sophomore Drew Jordan, a former 4-star recruit who played in all thirteen games as a freshman last year. And providing valuable depth at end are Tre Hornbuckle, who started all thirteen games in 2017, and redshirt-freshman Chris Rumph II, who has 3 sacks and 7.5 tackles-for-loss in in rotational duty.
On the interior, the Blue Devils’ top four defensive tackles all weigh at least 300 pounds. The starters, sophomore Derek Tangelo and redshirt-junior Trevon McSwain, combine for 59 total tackles, 6 tackles-for-loss and 1.5 sacks. Tangelo is a stout 6-feet-2-inches and 310 pounds, while McSwain is a longer, leaner 6-feet-6-inches and 300 pounds.
Duke only starts two linebackers, but those two linebackers produce at a higher rate than many trios. Redshirt-junior Joe Giles-Harris, a 2017 first-team All-ACC selection, and senior Ben Humphreys combine for 111 tackles, 10 tackles-for-loss and 1.5 sacks. Humphreys is expected to start against Pitt despite having to sit out of portion of last week’s game due to injury.
Like running back, the cornerback position has been stricken with injuries this season for the Blue Devils. Junior Mark Gilbert, a 2017 first-team All-ACC selection, dislocated his hip against Northwestern and will miss the remainder of the year. Redshirt-freshman Josh Blackwell and redshirt-junior Brandon Feamster have filled in for Gilbert, but neither is performing near Gilbert’s level. Starting opposite of Blackwell is sophomore Michael Carter II, who returned to the field last Saturday after missing multiple weeks with a knee injury.
And at safety, Duke will start three new players who did not start against Pitt last year. Rover safety Dylan Singleton almost acts as a third linebacker, ranking second on the team in total tackles with 57, and adding 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Bandit safety Marquis Waters and Strike safety Leonard Johnson have amassed 56 tackles, 2 sacks, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, 2 interceptions and 6 pass breakups. The Blue Devils have experienced depth at safety, too, with backups Jeremy McDuffie and Jordan Hayes having started last year versus Pitt. McDuffie earned third-team All-ACC honors in 2017, and continues to contribute throughout the secondary.
|Points Per Game||24.3||30.9||29.4||19.1|
|Yards Gained Rushing||1520||1454||1252||1189|
|Yards Lost Rushing||181||193||147||168|
|Average Yards Per Rush||5.0||4.5||4.0||3.5|
|Average Yards Per Game||191.3||180.1||157.9||145.9|
|Average Yards Per Game||145.9||229.7||222.1||207.9|
|Average Yards Per Play||5.4||5.8||5.4||4.9|
|Average Yards Per Game||337.1||409.9||380.0||353.7|
|KICK RETURNS – RETURN YARDS||13-376||5-109||10-235||17-303|
|PUNT RETURNS – RETURN YARDS||11-102||14-109||17-109||15-173|
|INTERCEPTION – RETURN YARDS||7-123||5-67||3-68||4-4|
|KICK RETURN AVERAGE||28.9||21.8||23.5||17.8|
|PUNT RETURN AVERAGE||9.3||7.8||6.4||11.5|
|INTERCEPTION RETURN AVERAGE||17.6||13.4||22.7||1.3|
|FUMBLES – FUMBLES LOST||9-6||14-5||7-4||16-6|
|PENALTIES – YARDS||51-484||37-290||28-244||35-312|
|Average Per Game||69.1||41.4||34.9||44.6|
|PUNTS – YARDS||35-1369||28-1186||33-1390||40-1598|
|NET YARDS PER PUNT||35.4||37.3||35.7||36.7|
|TIME OF POSSESSION PER GAME||31:26||28:34||26:47||33:13|
|4th Down Percentage||33%||50%||40%||50%|
|SACKS BY – YARDS||14-105||14-120||15-97||15-100|
|Rumph II, Chris||9||17||7.5||0||1||0||3.0|
Pitt leads the all-time series between the two teams, 13-9, although Duke is a 2.5-point favorite this time around. Saturday’s game is set to kick off at 3:30 at Heinz Field. It will be aired on ATT&T Sports Net, 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.