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At First Glance: Previewing Pitt's next opponent, the Duke Blue Devils

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

With two losses in a row, Pitt's season isn't over. It would have been nice to see the Panthers come away with a win against either North Carolina or Notre Dame, but with only two combined losses, those teams are having very good seasons. Pitt tries to get back on track this weekend against Duke.

Record/Schedule

Like Pitt, Duke enters the game at 6-3. Also like Pitt, the Blue Devils have defeated Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, but fallen to the better teams on their schedule (North Carolina, Miami, and Northwestern). Obviously the Miami loss was a controversial one, but counts as a loss nonetheless.

Common Opponents

As stated above, Duke and Pitt have both beaten the same teams in Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels were the other common opponent and while Pitt had more success against North Carolina, Duke had an easier time with Georgia Tech, winning by 14. Both teams narrowly defeated the Hokies - Pitt by four and Duke by two (in four overtimes).

Most Recent Game

Duke was trounced by North Carolina, losing 66-31.

Standouts

Duke has used a committee approach when it comes to the running backs with three recording at least 35 carries. Shaquille Powell leads the way there with 98 carries for 449 yards. Wide receiver Max McCaffrey leads the receivers with 38 catches for 475 yards.

Defensively, safety Jeremy Cash arguably leads the way. Cash has yet to record an interception this year, but has three sacks and is a tackling machine, recording five double-digit tackle games. His 79 are among the best in the conference. Linebacker Dwayne Norman and safety DeVon Edwards are both also having very good seasons with 79 and 75 tackles, respectively.

Under Center

Junior quarterback Thomas Sirk leads Duke's offense and his 1,979 yards are good for fifth in the conference. Sirk is yet another dual-threat quarterback that Pitt will face. His 555 rushing yards lead the team and while he's not the strongest of passers, is capable. Sirk also has five interceptions on the season to 12 touchdowns. Because of his mobility, opposing defense have found it hard to take him down in the backfield. Sirk has only been sacked six times this season - fewest of the full-time starters in the ACC.

Strengths

Duke is a solid team on both sides of the ball, ranking 41st in total offense and 30th in total defense. In particular, the team excels on the ground, averaging nearly 200 yards a game (thanks largely to what Sirk does at quarterback), good for 35th in the nation. Their rushing defense is even better as the Blue Devils give up only 133 yards per contest, ranking 30th in the nation. The team also excels in special teams, ranking 15th in the nation averaging nearly 25 yards per return.

Weaknesses

One problem area for Duke has been their red zone defense. The Blue Devils have given up scores on 21 of 24 attempts to teams. That 88% success rate ranks near the bottom of the FBS at No. 92. Duke also gives up slightly more turnovers than they force and rank 79th in turnover margin. Also, for what it's worth, the Blue Devils also lose the time of possession battle, ranking 85th in the nation holding the ball on offense for just under 29 minutes per game.

Prognosis

It'd be easier to feel good about Pitt's chances if they got the game at home. But even on the road, the Panthers look like they can match up well against Duke. If the Panthers want to reach eight regular season wins this year, winning this game would make that goal much more attainable. And while the Pitt needs a lot of help to win the Division, defeating the Blue Devils keeps them alive.

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