After Pitt's win against Clemson last week, anything looks possible, right?
The Panthers have two games left to close the season against two teams with losing records. While they might be easy to look past, that shouldn't be happening - especially this week against Duke.
Duke comes into the game only 4-6 but just pulled off a big upset of their own, knocking off North Carolina on Thursday night, 28-27 - the same North Carolina team that beat Pitt earlier this year. The Blue Devils also knocked off Notre Dame on the road and two of their six losses came by three points each to both Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. It's easy to overlook teams with a 1-5 conference record, but this really shouldn't be one of those times.
The good news for Pitt is that Duke isn't elite, of course. The Blue Devils do plenty of things okay, but don't really excel in any one area outside of kickoff return yardage, where they rank eighth in the nation with about 26 yards per return. And even in that area, Pitt bests them as the top overall team in the country thanks to Quadree Henderson.
Offensively, you can expect a pretty decent run/pass mix from Duke. They rank exactly 67th in both rushing and passing yardage. Under center, Duke has dual-threat quarterback Daniel Jones. Jones doesn't always go off, but has had three 300-yard games this year and 469 rushing yards. Stopping him will be no easy feat.
On the ground, Duke is banged up. Starting running back Jela Duncan was declared out for the season recently, after accumulating 450 yards on the ground. But don't feel bad for the Blue Devils, who have been using a two-headed monster all season, anyway. Duke's Shaun WIlson just surpassed Duncan in terms of rushing yardage and has two 100-yard games in the team's past three contests.
But despite having a decent offense, Duke hasn't converted that into points enough. They are 94th in the nation in scoring, nearly 30 spots down from their yardage ranking, with only 24.5 points per game. Even in the red zone, Duke's offense has been no sure thing. Getting points only about 81% of the time, they are 91st in the nation in that category.
Defensively, Duke bends a little more than they break in terms of scoring defense vs. yardage. While they are only 58th in terms of total yardage given up per game, the Blue Devils are a respectable 42nd in scoring defense, allowing just over 24 points per game. In particular, they've done a decent job holding some teams down. Louisville and Virginia Tech both scored only 24 against them. Duke also held two teams (NC Central and Army to only six points each.
One thing to watch, particularly if the game is close, is the kicking game. Duke rarely kicks field goals and has only three on the entire season out of eight attempts, using freshman A.J. Reed. Duke has basically abandoned the kicking game and that seems to be a problem area for the team.
Pitt should have a good chance to win this game. They clearly can't take Duke for granted, but at home and off the Clemson win, you have to like their chances if Pitt plays the way they're capable of doing. The Panthers added a bunch of fans back on the bandwagon with the win against Clemson and this is the type of game they simply can't afford to lose if they want to keep them.