Photo: Quentin Harris
DURHAM – Duke raised some eyebrows in the ACC last week with its 45-10 win at Virginia. Maybe the Blue Devils do have enough to be the surprise challenger to ACC Coastal preseason favorite Virginia Tech.
But that was before Pitt visited Duke Saturday night at Wallace Wade Stadium in a result that started as a come-from-ahead victory but finished as a come-from-behind triumph, 33-30. The Panthers may have taken the Cinderella slipper back home to western Pennsylvania.
Not only did the Panthers (4-2, 1-1 ACC Coastal) win the roller-coaster game over Duke (4-2, 1-1 ACC Coastal), they’ve been raising eyebrows since their season-opening loss to Virginia. Maybe Pitt is the one that has been overlooked despite their pass rushing ability and their pass receivers compiling numbers this season.
Yes, the Coastal isn't as tough as the Atlantic Division, which is topped by a Goliath, Clemson. But increasingly in college football today, with some many of the 5-star and 4-star recruits following each other to the same four our five schools -- Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio State -- what division isn't outside of the SEC West?
Pitt led 26-3 lead midway through the third quarter before its lead evaporated into a 30-26 deficit. Then they won with on a two-minute drill touchdown, drivinng 82 yards in for plays for a . V’Lique Carter caught a 26-yard pass over the middle from redshirt senior quarterback Kenny Pickett. Carter beat a blitz similar to a moments earlier when Duke's Deon Jackson beat a blitz over the middle with a 44-yard TD pass from quarterback Quinten Harris.
“Just shows character, our guys going on the road to get a victory,” said fifth-year head coach Pat Narduzzi.
Pitt started the season slowly at Virginia – unranked at the time but No. 23 entering the week – but since then has split two Top 25 games. The Panthers gave then-No. 13 Penn State (now No. 12) a scare before falling 17-10 and they beat then-No. 15 UCF 35-34. The Panther escaped Football Championship Subdivision member Delaware (17-14) last week, but they played without Pickett, who was injured.
Pitt’s pass rush was too much for Duke’s offense that scored 45 points in Blacksburg. The Blue Devils tried to compensate with short passes to limit the sacks, but quarterback hurries and interceptions limited the Blue Devils to 64 yards passing and 105 in total offense in the first half as Pitt led 19-3 at intermission.
The first-half hurries were from defensive end Patrick Jones (6-2, 290), defensive end Habakkuk Baldonado (6-5, 220) and linebacker Phil Campbell (6-1, 220). The Panthers finished with three sacks against a team that had allowed one one sack in the previous four.
Redshirt sophomore safety Paris Ford had two of the interceptions. The first was a tipped ball he returned 26 yards for a touchdown and 7-3 lead.
At halftime, Harris was 9-of-22 for 64 yards with a fumble along with the picks. He finished 18-of-43 for 165 yards
“I have to take care of the ball better,” Harris said. “The first half, I was making some errant throws and put us in bad positions, but the defense was able to stand tall and get some of the possessions back with limited points.”
By the end of the night, Pitt benefited from six turnovers – three fumbles and three interceptions. The third pick was double reverse that resulted in wide receiver Anthony Young throwing an interception.
Narduzzi’s team is essentially two games behind Virginia, counting the tiebreaker, but there is enough time to wonder if Pitt was the overlooked team in the ACC. The Panthers’ remaining league games are all winnable against Syracuse, Miami, George Tech, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Boston College.
Duke still has a chance to upset Virginia in two weeks, but pulling off that feat looks less likely now than after beating Virginia Tech. Duke essentially has two games to make up on Pitt.
The Panthers, after all, are the defending Coastal champions, although their final record of 7-7 diminished enthusiasm as a 2019 favorite. They were 7-5 overall and 6-2 in league play in the regular season, but the final two losses were in the ACC Championship game to eventual national champion Clemson and Stanford in the Sun Bowl.
Entering the game, Pitt has the third best record in ACC games since Narduzzi took over: Clemson, 30-2; Miami, 21-11; and Pitt, 20-12.
Duke last defeated Pitt in 2014, one season before Narduzzi arrived. The Panthers are 5-1 against Duke since joining the ACC in 2013.
Pitt entered the game ranked second in the nation with 24 sacks and boasted of the No. the receiving tandem with 72 catches among Maurice Ffrench (40) and Taysir Mack (32). They added to those totals with three sacks (two from Jones, one from Amir Watts and 19 receptions (10 for French for 54 yards and nine for Mack for 85 with a TD).
"Unfortunately, we called a man blitz and they had the right play there at the end," Cutcliffe said. "But we'll assess it, we'll learn from this. We're going to learn a lot from this football game. It's really disappointing; it's hard. But you've got to get past that and you've got to get to the lessons. We'll make lessons. We've got to get real about what we can do better -- players, coaches, all of us, it starts with me -- and then after that we get prepared to play Georgia Tech."
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