You’ll have to forgive the short preview this week. I’ve been pressed for time.
Duke is a good football team, and they have been for a while.
Head Coach David Cutcliffe won a grand total of 21 games in his first five years (just over 4 wins per season), but he won 46 in his next six. (nearly 8 wins per season). That also includes three straight bowl wins.
Of course this kind of record at Pitt would likely have gotten him run out of town after his first eight win season (following one of 10 and one of 9…)
Still, Cutcliffe’s got a winning recipe going, and it usually starts with the quarterback.
This year is no different.
Senior Quentin Harris is having himself a good season.
However Alabama did hold Harris to 12-22 / 97 yds / 0 TD / 2 INT in the season opener (Duke lost 42-3)
Don’t get any illusions though. Pitt’s defense is good, but they probably aren’t Alabama good.
Duke’s three wins have come against somewhat lesser competition. There was the 45-13 win against North Carolina A&T (46.3 Sagarin Rating), a 41-18 win against Middle Tennessee State (55.2), and last week’s 45-10 romp over Virginia Tech (65.1).
For what it’s worth, Alabama’s rating is 101.8. Duke’s is 76.1. Pitt’s is 72.3. So yes, we will be the stiffest test Duke has faced since rolling with the Tide, and one could argue that Pitt is probably a little bit underrated, while Virginia Tech is still probably a little bit overrated.
And that of course, is due in a large part to Pitt’s defense. As I mentioned on Tuesday, our defense is pretty good.
We’re 27th nationally in total defense. We’re second nationally in sacks, and eighth nationally in tackles for loss.
Duke’s offensive line is pretty good as well. Probably the best we’ve faced to-date. They rank 14th nationally in “stuff rate” (% of carries that are stopped at or before the line of scrimmage), and they’ve given up a grand total of one sack in four games. That’s tied for first in the country.
Pitt’s front seven is going to have their work cut out for them if they want to get to Harris.
That makes the Duz’ defensive formula that much more important. Duke is going to want to use quick passes to negate our pass rush, and they will execute it well. Aggressive and fundamentally sound football will be the only thing that can stop it. The corners are going to need to play a very tough press-man, and really focus on their jams at the line. Yards after the catch must not be allowed. Everyone is going to have to tackle.
And we’re going to have to stop it because our offense is still a huge question mark. Save the UCF game, the story has not changed. Lots of yards through the air, a middling completion percentage, an anemic running game and few points on the board. Duke is ranked 42nd in total defense BTW, so it’s probable that we will be able to move the ball, but until Pitt proves otherwise, I’ll be skeptical about our ability to score.
And so the story of this game is the story of the season so far. If Pitt comes out with energy and executes close to perfectly, we’ve got a shot to win, mostly because of our defense. If Pitt comes out flat and / or makes mistakes, we will surely lose.
Still, our team’s stated goal is to win the ACC, and they are going to need to run the table to do it. That means every week is a must-win.
Pitt has risen to the occasion three times so far. They pulled it together after a tough UVA loss and beat an Ohio team that may predicted would give them trouble. They pulled it together after an emotional loss to Penn State and took down UCF. Pitt played poorly last week against Delaware, and so there is some pulling-it-together to be done.
Lets hope the team is up to the challenge.
Hail to Pitt