Welcome to the Pitt Panthers at Duke Blue Devils Preview! This is your one-stop shop for everything you need to know about Pitt and their upcoming opponent! Mike Drakulich of Pittsburgh SportsNation brings you inside the huddle for both teams, providing all fans with a detailed breakdown of each team, game outlook, score prediction, individual stats, team stats, and even the weather at kickoff. The only thing you’re missing is a game uniform!
A look at the Pitt Panthers!
Overall Record: 2-5 | ACC Record: 0-3 | Rank: N/A
Head Coach: Pat Narduzzi (3rd Season with Pitt)
Lifetime Record: 18-15 (.545)
Last Week: N.C. State 35 Pitt 17
Scouting the Panthers
Quarterback- Senior graduate transfer Max Browne was the starter at the beginning of the season, but his career is now over after needing surgery on his injured shoulder. Ben DiNucci is the next man up, and has the ability to take off and run if none of the passing lanes are open. The future of the program belongs to Kenny Pickett. The young freshman is now one snap away from being the starter, and given his abilities, the sooner that happens, the better for both him and the program.
Running Backs- Pitt plenty of guys who can tote the rock, but none are making a difference. Qadree Ollison is the starter for now. He is more of a bruiser, as is Darrin Hall. Chawtez Moss had worked his way into the mix with his abilities, but now finds himself suspended indefinitely. AJ Davis has played sparingly. Fullback George Aston is back from injury but hasn’t been involved much in the offense since his return. Despite playing defense and missing three games, SS Jordan Whitehead is 2nd on the team in rushing with 132 yards.
Wide Receivers- Jester Weah caught 36 passes for 872 yards and 10 scores last year. He has struggled to emulate those numbers in 2017. Quadree Henderson is a dynamic playmaker but hasn’t seen anywhere near the touches needed to produce. When he has gotten the ball, he hasn’t done much. Maurice French contributes on both the ground and in the air, as he employs a style similar to Hendersen. Aaron Mathews is getting better and Raphael Araujo-Lopez is the team leader with 26 receptions on the year.
Tight Ends- Matt Flanagan and Chris Clark are hoping to be a dynamic duo at tight end for the Panthers. Flanagan has put up decent numbers so far in 2017, and Clark, a huge target, is starting to make his presence known in the Pitt offense.
Defense- Dewayne Hendrix and Rashaad Weaver are co-starters at defensive end, with Allen Edwards on the other side. James Folston, Jr. and Patrick Jones II will also see plenty of action. In the middle, you’ll find Shane Roy and the impressive freshman Keyson Camp. Amir Watts and Kam Cater will be in the rotation.
At linebacker, Elijah Zeise, Saleem Brightwell, and Seun Idowu are the starters. Anthony McKee, Jr. and Chris Pine will get plenty of chances to make an impression, too.
The secondary was scorched game after game last year, and that trend has continued into 2017. Help is on the way as star safety Jordan Whitehead is back after being suspended for the first three games. Avonte Maddox will start at corner on one side and expect to see a rotation of Dane Jackson and Damarri Mathis until one stands above the other. With Whitehead back at SS, Dennis Briggs returns to being a back-up. Bricen Garner and highly touted Damar Hamlin will rotate at FS. Top recruit Paris Ford enrolled late, but his talent will eventually rise to the top and he will see action sooner than later.
Kicker- Freshman Alex Kessman takes over the kicking duties for Pitt and is getting better each week. Has already nailed a 55 yarder this year.
Kick/Punt Return- Quadree Henderson will be back deep for every kick.
A look at the Duke Blue Devils!
Overall Record: 4-3 | ACC Record: 1-3 | Rank: N/A
Head Coach: David Cutcliffe (10th Season with Duke)
Lifetime Record: 100-93 (.518) | 56-64 (.466) at Duke
Last Week: Florida State 17 Duke 10
Scouting the Blue Devils
Quarterback- Daniel Jones is average, at best, in throwing the ball. He is capable of getting out of the pocket and making plays with his legs, as evident with his 209 yards rushing and three scores.
Running Backs- Shaun Wilson and Brittain Brown create a nice 1-2 punch for the Blue Devils.
Wide Receivers- Not a group that’s going to overwhelm you. T.J. Rahming leads the pack with 36 receptions for 425 receiving yards, but he hasn’t found the endzone in 2017. Johnathan Lloyd is Jones’ 2nd favorite wideout, with Chris Taylor and Aaron Young as his 3rd and 4th options.
Tight Ends- Davis Koppenhaver only has 10 receptions, but five of them have ended up as touchdowns. he is one to watch inside the 20.
Defense- Duke has a stingy defense that ranks 19th nationally in fewest yards allowed (312.9 yards per game) and 16th in rushing defense (108 yards per game).
The 2017 season has not been a kind one to the Pitt Panthers. A 2-5 overall record, 0-3 in the ACC, has the young team trying to keep their heads up during turbulent times.
There are plenty of reasons this year has been as bad as it has been, which includes youth and inexperience, but one of the biggest eye openers has been the disappearance of the running game.
“What bothers me the most? That’s an easy question,” Pitt running backs coach Andre Powell said sarcastically. “The bar is high. Expectations are high. … Just getting the guys to understand every yard matters.”
The Panthers, six games into the year, are led by Qadree Ollison who has just 266 rushing yards to his name. At the start of the season, running back was thought to be the deepest and most stable position on the team. Ollison was named the starter, but behind him was the likes of Chawntez Moss, Darrin Hall, AJ Davis, and possibly Todd Sibley.
Care to guess in that group who is second on the team with 150 yards?
The answer is “None of the Above”.
Jordan Whitehead, despite being the starting safety and missing the first three games of the year, holds that distinction.
“There’s only one ball,” Powell said. “You throw Whitehead in the mix, it’s hard to get five guys the ball. … He’s one of the guys we’re expecting to do good things in the future. If he was pressed into action, I think he would do a good job, but the overall knowledge of the game and what we’re doing is what he’s lacking right now.”
Hall got the start against North Carolina State.
“Thought we needed a little spark,” running backs coach Andre Powell said Tuesday. “We didn’t think it would get worse, so we gave it a whirl.”
Hall ended up with 17 yards on nine carries.
Therein seems to lie the problem. Any lead back worth his salt needs a good 20-25 carries a game to get a good flow going.
If that back isn’t producing results that game, then move on to another for the next game. Somebody needs to step up and assume the role of lead back for the Panthers.
The quarterback position is just as clouded. With Max Browne now done for the year, Ben DiNucci has assumed the fulltime role, but when Coach Narduzzi decided to burn Kenny Pickett’s redshirt by putting him in for the final play of the Syracuse game, it makes it tough not to get Pickett as much time as he can get, as he is considered the future of the program at quarterback.
“We’d like to have one quarterback,” Narduzzi said. “That worked pretty good last year.”
Narduzzi put Pickett into the North Carolina State game during the 3rd quarter after DiNucci had three series in a row without any results. Pitt was only down seven at the time.
It was a move questioned by some in the media…and a few in the stands.
“I guess we’re odd,” he said. “If I wait two more series, you might be going, ‘Why did you wait so long to put Kenny in?’
“It’s easy to sit there with your arm on that armrest and say that stuff. But the fact is we come into the second half, we throw an interception on the third play of the second half, and we haven’t been a great second-half team to begin with (outscored, 112-49).
“So, I can sit there and continue to put up with it, or we can do something about it.
“You have more patience than I do, I guess. I like to win, and it’s going to be competitive.”
So who, in Narduzzi’s mind, is the better quarterback moving forward?
“You know, there’s gaps. Decision making, holding on to the ball, making the right run checks, all those things,” Narduzzi said. “There’s not this gigantic gap, put it that way.”
For the Panthers to get back in the victory column, they need to get back to basics. Stick with one guy at quarterback and at running back. Allow each to get a rhythm going without fear of being pulled if a play results in negative yardage.
“We need to get more consistency, period, whether it’s the offensive line, the quarterback position or the running back position,” Narduzzi said. “We will sooner or later get on track and hopefully sooner than later.”
Narduzzi was asked what was the most frustrating thing about the season so far.
“Football-wise, I guess you can’t put your finger on one thing,” he said. “I get spread out because I’m trying to help the defense over here and then all of a sudden the offense isn’t going, so I go spend time over there and then all of a sudden it’s something over here and you go back over here and I’m popping from room to room. I don’t have a room I can hang out in.”
“Last year, I could spend a lot of time in the defensive room; our offense was clicking and going. That’s probably the most frustrating, is I feel like I’m getting pulled. My wingspan is longer right now than it was at the beginning of the year.”
Pitt can win this game if they take care of the ball and play the type of physical football their coaches had praised them as being when Training Camp began.
Duke isn’t going to overwhelm Pitt offensively. Duke QB Daniel Jones averages about 199 yards a game passing, and has 209 yards on the ground with three more scores, but he has been sacked 18 times thus far in 2017. Pitt’s defense, which only has a paltry nine sacks so far, needs to get to the quarterback and make some plays.
Though Pitt defense is ranked 110th in pass defense, they have improved drastically since the return of Whitehead. The younger players are starting to evolve into playmakers and are finally giving Pitt fans a glimmer of hope for 2018 and beyond.
Pitt has a great opportunity to keep this game close and maybe even make a play or two late in the game and escape with a much needed victory. These next three games are against beatable teams. The last two against Virginia Tech and Miami don’t look even minimally winnable at the moment.
Perhaps this will be the week where the Panthers play a full 60 minutes and set the foundation for next season.
Keys to Victory
- Feed your lead back! Darrin Hall is in line for the start. Get him the ball 20+ times and see what he can do.
- Utilize Jordan Whitehead! Yes, getting Hall the ball is a must, but so is placing the ball in Whitehead’s hands in every way possible, including the Wildcat now and then.
- No turnovers! This offense has a hard enough time scoring. Secure the ball and make some splash plays!
- Get to the QB! Nine sacks on the year? C’mon man! The Panthers have to find ways to disrupt the opposing passing game. Hitting their quarterback often helps.
- Create some turnovers! Getting pressure on the quarterback will go hand in hand with this.
- Limit big plays! Make Duke work for their points.
Watching a young team struggle is hard to watch at times. Panther fans have been waiting 30 plus years for winning football. One more year isn’t going to kill them. The defense is starting to show signs of improvement. Now it’s time for the offense to follow their lead. Pitt played N.C. State well till the half then faltered in the 2nd half. Duke isn’t anywhere near as good as the Wolfpack, so this game is there for the taking by the Panthers. Look for Pitt to make a few plays late in the game and secure their first ACC victory of the season.
Pitt 24 Duke 20
NCAA Week 8
Pitt Panthers (2-5, 0-3) at Duke Blue Devils (4-3, 1-3)
Venue: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, NC.
Game-time: Saturday, October 21st 12:20 pm
TV: ACC Network (WTAE) | Announcers: Tom Werme (play-by-play) Dave Archer (analyst) | D.J. Shockley (reporter)
Local Radio: Pittsburgh- 93.7 The Fan | Announcers: Bill Hillgrove (play-by-play) Bill Osborne (analyst) | Larry Richert (sideline)
National Radio: Sirius XM Satellite Radio- Internet Channel 972
Weather at Kickoff: 73 and sunny.
Vegas Line: Duke -8.5
Pitt vs Duke History
- Series History: Began in 1929.
- Pitt is 12-9 overall against Duke
- Pitt is 6-4 on road against Duke.
- Streak: Pitt won the last two meetings.
- Last Regular Season Meeting: Nov. 19, 2016 (Pitt 56 Duke 14)
Redshirt freshman placekicker Alex Kessman has displayed a powerful leg in his debut season. He has made five consecutive field goals, including a school record-tying 56 yards.
The Panthers will be significantly challenged by a Duke defense that ranks 19th nationally in fewest yards allowed (312.9 yards per game) and 16th in rushing defense (108 yards per game).
Ben DiNucci has played in six games this year with two starts. He has completed 57% of his passes (55 of 97) for 612 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. Kenny Pickett, who made his college debut two games ago at Syracuse, has thrown for 74 yards on 6-of-14 passing (43%).
QB- Ben DiNucci (612 yards passing | 3 TD passes | 3 interceptions | 7 sacks | 23 yards rushing | 1 rushing TD)
QB- Kenny Pickett (74 yards passing | 0 TD passes | 0interceptions | 0 sacks | 18 yards rushing | 0rushing TD)
RB- Qadree Ollison (266 yards rushing | 4 rushing TD’s | 16 receptions | 134 yards receiving | 1 receiving TD’s)
RB- Jordan Whitehead (150 yards rushing | 1 rushing TD’s | 2 receptions | 7 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
RB- Chawntez Moss (113 yards rushing | 2 rushing TD’s | 5 receptions | 75 yards receiving | 1 receiving TD’s)
RB- Darrin Hall (108 yards rushing | 1 rushing TD’s | 8 receptions | 55 receiving | 1 receiving TD’s)
RB- AJ Davis (17 yards rushing | 1 rushing TD’s | 1 receptions | 0 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
FB- George Aston (0 yards rushing | 0 rushing TD’s | 0 receptions | 0 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
WR- Rafeal Araujo-Lopes (32 receptions | 389 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s)
WR- Jester Weah (25 receptions | 384 receiving yards | 3 receiving TD’s
WR- Maurice Ffrench (16 receptions | 130 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
WR- Aaron Matthews (15 receptions | 180 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
WR- Quadree Henderson (11 receptions | 126 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s | 111 yards rushing | 0 rushing TD’s)
WR- Ruben Flowers (0 receptions | 0 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
TE- Matt Flanagan (15 receptions | 138 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
TE- Chris Clark (10 receptions | 59 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s)
K- Alex Kessman (Extra Point: 18-18 | FG: 7-11 | 0-19: 0-0 | 20-29: 2-4 | 30-39: 0-0 | 40-49: 3-4 | 50+: 2-3 | Long: 57
Duke Blue Devils
QB- Daniel Jones (1,398 yards passing | 6 TD passes | 5 interceptions | 18 sacks | 209 yards rushing | 3 rushing TD )
RB- Shaun Wilson (506 yards rushing | 5 rushing TD’s | 20 receptions | 85 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
RB- Brittain Brown (470 rushing | 3 rushing TD’s | 8 receptions | 92 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
WR- T.J. Rahming (36 receptions | 425 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
WR- Johnathan Lloyd (23 receptions | 238 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s)
WR- Chris Taylor (10 receptions | 142 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s)
WR- Aaron Young (9 receptions | 141 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s)
TE- Davis Koppenhaver (10 receptions | 178 receiving yards | 5 receiving TD’s)
K- Austin Parker (Extra Point: 23-24 | FG: 10-12 | 0-19: 0-0 | 20-29: 5-6 | 30-39: 4-5 | 40-49: 1-1 | 50+: 0-0 | Long: 45
Pitt – Duke: Offensive vs Defensive Comparison
Pitt Total Offense: Pitt averages 354.1 YPG | Duke allows 312.9 YPG
Rushing: Pitt averages 113.7 YPG | Duke allows 108 YPG
Passing: Pitt averages 240.4 YPG | Duke allows 204.9 YPG
Scoring: Pitt averages 23.3 PPG | Duke allows 19.6 PPG
Pitt Total Defense: Pitt allows 444.7 YPG | Duke averages 399.9 YPG
Rushing: Pitt allows 176.1 YPG | Duke averages 190.4 YPG
Passing: Pitt allows 268.6 YPG | Duke averages 209.4 YPG
Scoring: Pitt allows 31.4 PPG | Duke averages 28.4 PPG
Injury Report (10/20/2017)
Out: RB Chawntez Moss (Suspended)
Questionable: FB George Aston (Ankle), LB Anthony McKee, Jr. (Upper Body), WR Dontavius Butler-Jenkins (Lower Body), OL Brandon Ford (Undisclosed)
Duke Blue Devils
Questionable: T Gabe Brandner (Hamstring)
Pitt Panthers 2017 Schedule
Regular Season (Overall: 2-5 | ACC: 0-3)
Saturday, September 2 Youngstown State W- 28-21 OT
Saturday, September 9 at #6 Penn State (ABC) L- 14-33
Saturday, September 16 #9 Oklahoma State (ESPN) L- 21-59
Saturday, September 23 at Georgia Tech* (ACC Network) L- 35-17
Saturday, September 30 Rice (ATT SportsNet) W- 42-10
Saturday, October 7 at Syracuse* (ATT SportsNet), L- 24-27
Saturday, October 14 #20 NC State* (HC) (ATT SportsNet), L- 17-35
Saturday, October 21 at Duke* at 12:20 p.m.
Saturday, October 28 Virginia* at 12:30 p.m.
Thursday, November 9 North Carolina* (ESPN) at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, November 18 at #15 Virginia Tech* at TBA
Friday, November 24 #11 Miami* at TBA
*ACC game / (HC) Homecoming / Ranking as of that week
Bold = Home
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