After an entirely uninspiring game against Delaware this past weekend, Pitt will now head on the road to face Duke in a prime time game at 8:00 p.m. on the ACC Network.
If you’re a Pitt fan, you also probably aren’t thrilled with having to play a night game on the road in front of a fanbase that has growing reason to be excited this year. Those aren’t odds that can’t be overcome but they won’t make things any easier.
I had a lot of questions about Duke coming into this past weekend. They hadn’t really beaten anyone and in their only real test, were dismantled by Alabama, 42-3. I still do, to be honest. But you have to give credit where it’s due and this weekend on the road, they beat up on Virginia Tech, 45-10. I watched a good portion of that game and Duke looked pretty impressive.
The Hokies don’t look like a good team this year, folks. But, unless you’re playing Georgia Tech this year, to win any conference game by 35 points on the road is admirable. This game looks a lot more challenging than it did to me when Pitt was riding the high of the UCF win. It would have been nice for Pitt to work on some things this weekend and build some confidence against Delaware. Instead, they had to fight for their lives and nearly lost playing without several starters.
Safe to say, though, there are still questions about Duke.
Aside from that game against Bama, Duke has scored a ton of points, topping 40 each time out. The problem is, those games have come against Tech, North Carolina A&T, and Middle Tennessee State. The result is, we’re left trying to figure out just how good they really are. They have scored in bunches so we know they’re a bit explosive. But they were also nearly shut out in their only real test this year.
It seems like we’re saying this every week but Pitt will have its hands full with yet another dual-threat quarterback in Quentin Harris. For as well as he’s thrown the ball (842 yards while completing more than 70% of his passes for ten touchdowns and two interceptions), he also leads the team in rushing with 303 yards and another two scores. A big problem is that he has been virtually untouchable, having been sacked only once this year. Keeping tabs on that guy is obviously priority number one.
That is emphasized when you look at the rest of the Blue Devils’ offense. Duke has spread the ball around to its skill players but none have really been dominant. Six receivers have caught at least seven passes but no one has more than the 172 yards tight end Noah Gray has. On the ground, the leading rusher after Harris is Deon Jackson with a modest 232 yards. Pitt has to pressure Harris and, when he gets loose, make sure his gains are minimal ones.
Duke’s defense, by the way, has also looked good. Other than that Alabama contest, they have held opponents on average to just under 14 points per game. Again, the competition has been questionable. But, well, the Blue Devils’ defense has been stout for the most part.
The other wild card in all of this, of course, is what does Pitt’s lineup look like this weekend. The Panthers were missing quite a few players against Delaware, including starting quarterback Kenny Pickett. In Monday’s press conference, Narduzzi, as you’d expect, committed to nothing. I’m not convinced that some of those guys that sat out couldn’t go against Delaware. But that’s my own suspicion. If they were legitimately banged up enough and aren’t 100% this weekend, things suddenly go from challenging to downright difficult, depending on who is out.
Oh, and if you like particularly mysterious two deep charts, Pitt’s depth chart for the Duke game currently has all four running backs (A.J. Davis, Todd Sibley, Vincent Davis, and V’Lique Carter) all listed as OR, meaning that any of the four could conceivably start. Or, at least that is the narrative being pushed. In other words, who actually plays this week sounds like anybody’s guess.
Trying to predict who comes out on top here seems downright impossible.