Pitt defeated Duke 33-30 in a thriller in Durham on Saturday night, but the victory came at a cost, as the team will be missing star safety Paris Ford for the first half of its matchup with Syracuse on Oct. 18. Ford will be serving a half-game suspension after being removed from Saturday’s game following a targeting penalty.
The targeting penalty came late in the fourth quarter, with Pitt leading Duke 26-24 and attempting to hold them off. Duke quarterback Quentin Harris found Duke wide receiver Scott Bracey for a gain of nine yards, but Bracey was almost immediately met by Ford after completing the catch. Ford and Bracey’s helmets collided as the safety attempted to tackle him at rib level, leading with his shoulder. However, Bracey lowered his head.
The play drew a flag and a review that led to confirmation of the targeting call, and Ford was subsequently ejected. The redshirt sophomore reacted to the call in an animated manner and was escorted off the field. Four plays later, Duke scored on a 44-yard pass from Harris to Deon Jackson, putting Pitt down 30-26. But Pitt would respond with a touchdown drive of its own to win the game in dramatic fashion.
Pitt’s Paris Ford was not thrilled to find out he got tossed for targeting. pic.twitter.com/0A4ZJjnnY8— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) October 6, 2019
Prior to his targeting ejection, Ford played a key role in the Pitt victory, as he intercepted two passes from Harris, returning one of the picks 26 yards for a defensive touchdown. Harris had zero turnovers in his previous three games.
Reaction to the targeting call and Ford’s suspension has been adverse among the Pitt fanbase, as the call occurred in the context of a game that was criticized by many, including Duke head coach David Cutcliffe, for questionable officiating. With that said, the call was not incorrect, according to the NCAA rulebook, as Ford did initiate contact with Bracey above the shoulders at a point when Bracey was considered defenseless.
On Monday, Ford took to Twitter to state explicitly that he never intended to harm Bracey or any other player during a game.
Ford’s absence will inconvenience Pitt against a Syracuse team that has shown a preference for passing under Dino Babers. Last year, the Orange passing offense ranked 31st in the nation with 264.7 passing yards per game. This year, with new quarterback Tommy Devito under center, the team is still averaging 250.2 passing yards per game.