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Duke vs. Pittsburgh: What to Watch For

Chris Taylor, WR / Duke Blue Devils / Photo by Chris Summerville
Chris Taylor, WR / Duke Blue Devils / Photo by Chris Summerville

When:  Saturday, November 19, 2016.  3:00 PM.

Where:  Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Television: Fox Sports South

Line:  Duke +6.5

Last Time: Duke 13, Pittsburgh 31.  Duke took on the Panthers in Durham last season and managed to put up a fight through the first half before fading down the stretch.  The Blue Devils were without starting quarterback Thomas Sirk who was injured the week prior.  Parker Boehme made the most of his starting opportunity, throwing for 248 yards and running for 80 yards and a touchdown.  The game was tied at the half at 10, but the Blue Devils only managed a field goal in the second half.  Outside of Boehme, Duke couldn’t manage any offense on the ground and turned the ball over three times.  Duke also gave up 268 rushing yards in the loss.

What to Watch For:

Air it Out.  We’ve seen Daniel Jones improve over the course of the season in a big way.  He’s been fearless as a passer from the start, but lately he’s been playing smarter as well.  Jones has been virtually turnover free in the second half of the season, with the exception of an interception in Atlanta.  Based on season stats the Panthers are the perfect opponent for Jones to continue his progression.  Pitt ranks near the bottom in virtually every defensive passing statistic, giving up over 368 passing yards per game and nearly 9 yards per pass.  TJ Rahming had a huge game against the Tar Heels, topping 100 yards.  While several Blue Devil pass catchers have had their moments this year, Jones still hasn’t established a go to receiver.  Rahming seems to be the most likely, given his solid freshman year, but only time will tell.  Saturday should provide a great opportunity for Jones to spread the ball around and give everyone a chance to make some plays down the field.

James Conner.  The Pitt running back is having another great season.  Conner is averaging just under 5 yards per carry this season.  Not only does he have good speed, but tackling him is a bit like running into a brick wall.  As well as Duke has played on defense they are a bit undersized.  The Blue Devils will need their defensive line to play a big part in slowing down the Pitt running game, but will also need another big game from Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris.  The linebacker duo had their hands full with Elijah Hood last week, but made enough plays in the end.  The task doesn’t get any easier for them this week.  The Panthers will try and run over the Blue Devils.  They will also try and lull the defense to sleep with run after run before attacking down the field.  It will take a group effort up front and on the back end to effectively defend the Pitt offense.

Big Play Defense.  While the Panthers are known for their rushing attack, they aren’t a one trick pony.  Nathan Peterman is having a very good season.  While he is only averaging about 210 passing yards per game, he is averaging 8.4 yards per attempt.  The Pitt offense goes through the run game, but when their running game is its most effective it sets up the play action pass for big gains down the field.  Peterman has executed this offense very well this year throwing 19 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions.  Jester Weah has 6 touchdown receptions this season and is averaging over 20 yards per catch.  Breon Borders may not be ready to go this weekend as he continues to deal with a hip injury.  True freshman Mark Gilbert had a very good game in his first career start against North Carolina.  He played every snap on defense against UNC and could do the same again this week.  If Duke can control the big play offense of North Carolina, they should be able to do the same against Pitt, but they’ll have to stay focused.