Pittsburgh, PA (SportsNetwork.com) – The 24th-ranked Duke Blue Devils continue
their quest for a second straight ACC Coastal Division title, as they take on
the Pittsburgh Panthers in a conference clash at Heinz Field on Saturday
David Cutcliffe continues to impress with the teams he has fielded in Durham
over the last few seasons. There has been no letdown from last year’s division
championship, as the Blue Devils are already bowl eligible once again, winning
six of their first seven games in 2014. The lone loss came at Miami on Sept.
27 (22-10), but the team has won two straight games since then, topping
Georgia Tech (31-25) and most recently, Virginia (20-13). Duke was idle this
Paul Chryst’s Panthers opened 2014 with three straight wins, but the team has
struggled since, winning just once in the last five outings. Last weekend,
Pitt was routed by Georgia Tech (56-28). The lone win for Pittsburgh since
mid-September came against Virginia Tech (21-16) on Oct. 16.
Chryst recognizes how dangerous Duke is.
“I think they’re maybe second in the league in points given up. I think
they’ve got a really good offense. I think their defense is playing well.
That’s the bottom line, not giving up points.”
Pittsburgh leads 10-8 in a series that dates back to 1929. The Panthers have
taken the series lead with wins in the last four meetings, including a a
thrilling 58-55 shootout a year ago.
The key to Duke’s strong season has been a balanced offensive attack. The team
is averaging just over 33 points per game, showing the ability to move the
ball both on the ground (218.0 ypg) and through the air (201.7 ypg).
Quarterback Anthony Boone has played well under center, completing 57.9
percent of his throws, for 1,362 yards and nine TDs, against just three INTs.
His favorite target downfield is one of the nation’s best and a Duke record-
holder in veteran wideout Jamison Crowder. The 5-foot-9 senior has caught 40
balls, for 471 yards and two TDs this season.
The Duke rushing attack lacks a true workhorse, but spreads out the production
amongst several playmakers. The most explosive is freshman tailback Shaun
Wilson, who is averaging a hefty 10.3 yards per carry, amassing 485 yards and
Duke has been vulnerable to the run this season, yielding 193.4 yards per
game, but it has kept teams on the scoreboard, ranking fifth nationally in
giving up just 15.1 ppg.
Senior linebacker David Helton leads the team with 69 total tackles. Junior
safety Jeremy Cash has made plays all over the field, with 63 stops, 5.0 TFL,
2 INTs, 3 FF and 1 FR).
Pittsburgh will test Duke’s defense behind a strong ground game and
athleticism on the outside. The Panthers are averaging 411.1 yards of total
offense, with 233.9 coming on the ground. Sophomore tailback James Conner
(6-2, 250) has been outstanding this season, averaging just under six yards
per carry and amassing an ACC-best 1,079 yards and 14 TDs thus far.
That has made sophomore quarterback Chad Voytik’s job easier, as he has
completed 60.6 percent of his passes, for 1,234 yards and nine TDs. It also
helps to have a dynamic playmaker on the outside in the form of 6-2 sophomore
wideout Tyler Boyd, who is far and away the most productive receiver on the
squad, with 45 catches, for 651 yards and five TDs.
The Panthers have certainly had their ups and downs defensively, but the team
overall has done a decent job in limiting foes to just 321.9 yards per game.
The team has been particularly strong against the pass, yielding just 165.6
yards per game (sixth nationally).
Senior linebacker Todd Thomas leads the Pitt defense with 49 total tackles. He
is followed closely by fellow senior LB Anthony Gonzalez with 47 stops.
Duke is 14-1 in its last 15 regular-season games. Still, Cutcliffe knows that
nothing is a given when it comes to overall success.
“We do have a quality football program. Moving forward, it’s meaningless
unless we continue to play well.”