Despite last week’s weak showing against Delaware, optimism is running high that we can beat Duke. Perhaps that is because six starters were sidelined last week, including Kenny Pickett. Perhaps that was because we believe that 13 penalties are an anomaly. Perhaps that’s because we know that Pitt tends to play down to lesser competition, and we know that Duke isn’t lesser competition. Perhaps it’s because we’ve won five of the last six games against the Blue Devils.
Well, whatever the reason, we all know a little optimism can be a dangerous thing. It’s much safer to keep your expectations low. Not that the Pitt Sports Information Department is doing anything to help.
In all seriousness though, September was a great month for Twyman. He is living up to expectations, and he needs to keep it going. Morrissey gets credit too. He has done what he’s done against two of the better pass rushes in the country…UVA and Penn State. Not bad for a former walk on.
As good as Twyman (and the rest of the defensive line) has been, do not expect a lot of sacks this week. Part of if is Duke’s offensive line (seasoned and capable). Part of it is scheme.
Per Pat Narduzzi:
They’ve given up one sack. That’s crazy. I don’t know how many teams in the country have given up one sack after they’ve played four. That’s ridiculous. Alabama got one sack, just so you know. Alabama got one. They’re the number-one team in the country; they only got home one time. So what does that tell you? [Cutcliffe] does a great job with the quarterbacks and their offensive scheme, period.
We’re going to have to play great coverage on Saturday. We really are. Because they know where they’re going. And they don’t do so much. They added this option to part of their game, but their other stuff is not so much. If you look at our hit chart, they don’t have a thousand formations. Last week against Delaware, we didn’t know what we were going to get. You got quads, you got stuff all over the place; I don’t want to call it a bunch of junk, but they had all kinds – you know, Duke’s offense is not junk. They run a lot of great stuff and they know what they’re doing and, ‘If you do this, we do that.’ They’ve got it pretty good. So that’s Coach Cutcliffe.
Still, it’s fair to say that Duke’s OL has not truly been tested. Alabama has 10 sacks through five games. Virginia Tech has 10 sacks through four. Pitt has 27.
So maybe Pitt gets three sacks on Saturday night? They need five.
The oddsmakers like Duke to win by four and a hook.
The computers favor Duke as well. ESPN gives Duke a 73.7% chance of victory.
Jeff Sagarin’s ratings give Duke a six point edge.
All of that is probably because Duke is on a three game win streak and they dismantled Virginia Tech in Blacksburg last week (45-10). That was in a large part due to the play of Duke QB Quentin Harris.
Harris does it all for the Blue Devils. He’s thrown for 842 yards and 12 TD’s on the year. He’s their leading rusher with 303 yards. He’s scored 12 total touchdowns. Take out the Alabama game (where Duke scored 3 points) and that’s 3 touchdowns per game.
So yes, it all comes down to stopping the quarterback, and that is one thing Pitt has consistently done well this season.
Pitt did a good job against UVA’s Bryce Perkins, limiting him to 181 yards passing and 2 TD’s. In fact, they’ve done a good job against all the quarterbacks they’ve faced
Ohio’s Nathan Rourke (a preseason multi-award watch list guy) was held to 177 yards and no TD’s (although he was apparently ill…)
Penn State’s Sean Clifford was held to 222 yards with no TD’s.
Central Florida’s Daniel Gabriel threw for 338 but also thew two picks, which changed the face of the game. Despite the big numbers his QBR was a meager 32.8 (QBR is the ESPN number that goes up to 100).
Delaware’s Nolan Henderson threw for only 127 yards on 31 attempts, although he did toss two touchdowns.
If history holds, Duke will pass for no more than two touchdowns tomorrow. And if Pitt can avoid turnovers, Duke might pass for less.
While I’m at it, I will state something painfully obvious. Pitt needs to win the turnover battle if it wants to win. The defense either needs to score some points, or create some positive momentum that the other side of the ball can feed on.
Which brings us to the offense. Duke is giving up 142 yards per game on the ground this year, which sounds like a lot.
Take a closer look though:
Bama: 42/ 145 / 3.5
NC A&T: 29 / 138 / 4.8
MTSU: 32 / 138 / 4.3
Virginia Tech: 43 / 139 / 3.2
Duke has clearly played better against the better teams that they’ve faced. I think they will be up for this game, and I’d be surprised if Pitt gets the running game going tomorrow.
As for passing, there is not a lot to go on. Duke was either dominated by superior competition, or they dominated inferior competition. The lone exception is Virginia Tech, whom Duke dominated, and who ostensibly is not inferior competition, but I suspect that by season’s end the Hokies will be fully exposed, and we’ll all be saying “yep that should have been expected.”
Here are the actual passing yard statistics:
Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa (who will finish top-3 in the Heisman voting) threw for 336 and 4 TD’s. A clearly over-matched NC A&T Team threw for 111 yards. Middle Tennessee throw for 201 and two TD’s, and the dumpster fire that is Virginia Tech threw for just 118, while completing less than 50% of their passes.
If Pitt is going to move the ball through the hair, you have to think that Whipple will have the right scheme. You have to hope that Kenny’s shoulder is 100%, and you also have to hope that the receivers and tight ends hold on to the ball. Protection, as usual, will be key. Duke has 10 sacks through four games, so as long as Pitt O-Line continues to progress Pickett more or less should have a clean pocket to throw from. Still, Pitt’s entire offense scored three touchdowns in a game once this year.
Special teams will probably continue to be an adventure. Based on Chris Peak’s TD stat that I posted above, Pitt would do well to utilize Christendoulou’s booming leg and keep Duke pinned back as much as they can. Pitt would also do well to hypnotize Alex Kessman into believing he is actually Chris Blewitt, so that we can get some consistency in the field goal game. This would also be a great time for the return game to show something. Kick and punt coverage, as usual needs to be sound, with no long returns given up.
As far as a prediction, I don’t know.
On paper you’d expect this to be a low-scoring affair, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this will be the game where someone finds a hole in the Pitt defense. If anyone can do it, it’s David Cutcliffe. Duke rolled up 619 yards of offense last year on Pitt, and if this game turns into a shootout, I’m not sure Pitt has the firepower to compete. I hate to do this, but I’d rather be pleasantly surprised than sadly disappointed.
Pitt 17 – Duke 38
Hail to Pitt