PITTSBURGH—As they have done in their last five games, the Blue Devils got off to a poor start and battled back. But this time, Duke has struggled to maintain their momentum, and enter the locker room facing a double-digit deficit.

Pittsburgh leads the Blue Devils 28-14 through 30 minutes at Heinz Field Saturday afternoon. After answering an early Pittsburgh touchdown, the Duke offense has been unable to move the ball downfield and Jim Knowles’ defensive unit has struggled to solve the Panthers’ various offensive motions and shifts. Pittsburgh is averaging 8.4 yards per play and scored two of its touchdowns on plays longer than 50 yards following defensive breakdowns. 

The Blue Devil got off to a slow start when junior running back Shaun Wilson fumbled his first rush before the Panthers recovered at Duke’s 17-yard line.

Pittsburgh quickly capitalized on the turnover when quarterback Nathan Peterman found wide receiver Dontez Ford streaking wide open in the middle of the field for an easy 16-yard touchdown reception.

But the Blue Devils responded with a five-play, 59-yard touchdown drive. Redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Jones found a rhythm on a couple of screen passes, one of which went to sophomore T.J. Rahming for 43 yards. Duke then knotted the score when Jones hit redshirt sophomore wide receiver Chris Taylor on an in-route for a six-yard touchdown.

Rahming has led the Blue Devils on the outside, already registering nine receptions for 112 yards. But  Jones has been under duress by the Panther defensive line led by All-ACC defensive end Ejuan Price, and has had little time to look downfield. Duke came up empty on its last five offensive possessions after four punts and a 31-missed field goal from freshman kicker A.J. Reed to end the half. Reed is now 3-of-9 on field goals this year.  

After the Blue Devils' first touchdown, Pittsburgh regained the lead with a 64-yard drive in seven plays. Running back James Conner—who quickly gained 38 rushing yards before leaving the game with an injury—helped move the Panthers down field before punching the ball in the end zone on a one-yard run.

After Duke’s ensuing drive stalled, the Panthers extended their advantage thanks to Quadree Henderson’s 52-yard rushing touchdown. The wide receiver and return specialist took a jet sweep to the right side before finding a hole and racing down the sideline.

The Blue Devils eventually tightened the game when redshirt senior cornerback Bryon Fields jumped a route and returned an interception 36 yards for a touchdown.

But the Panthers quickly regained their stride when wide receiver Jester Weah beat Duke safety Deondre Singleton on a go-route for a 56-yard touchdown reception.

The Blue Devils had another opportunity to cut into the lead late in the second quarter, but Reed's kick was wide right. 

Here are some other observations from the first half:

  • The Blue Devils have failed to establish their run game. After Wilson’s fumbles, Duke ran the ball just 12 more times and compiled just 22 rushing yards.
  • The Blue Devils suffered another injury when offensive tackle Gabe Brandner went down with an injury, and have struggled to slow down Pittsburgh's strong front-seven. The Panthers have three sacks and have forced Jones to get rid of the ball quickly.
  • Duke tight ends Daniel Helm and Davis Koppenhaver combined for four catches for 35 yards, almost all of which came on the team's last drive. The duo will need a big half for the Blue Devils to get back in the game.