The independent news organization of Duke University

Scouting the opponent: Which Pittsburgh team will take the field Saturday?

<p>Ben Humphreys will have his hands full trying to slow down Pittsburgh's back-heavy offensive attack.&nbsp;</p>

Ben Humphreys will have his hands full trying to slow down Pittsburgh's back-heavy offensive attack. 

Parents' weekend was a blood bath for Duke.

The Cavaliers torched the Blue Devils on all fronts, with plays on the ground and through the air knocking the wind out of Duke's sails as it came off an important ACC road victory against Georgia Tech.

And after last week's beat down, the Blue Devils may not be able to catch much of a break against Pittsburgh.

Coming off a loss to Virginia at home, Duke will travel to Pittsburgh, looking to break-even in ACC play against the Panthers. Although Pittsburgh's offense has been sloppy through much of its 3-4 season, the Panthers have shown flashes of being a dangerous team in a rollercoaster schedule.

"Pittsburgh has a really physical program," Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. "A physical team and a physical program. Pat Narduzzi is an excellent coach with a great staff. They’re a physical football team and they can run the ball extremely well. We know what kind of fight we’re in for."

Just two weeks ago, Pittsburgh came within minutes of taking down No. 5 Notre Dame, holding a 14-12 lead heading into the final minutes of the fourth quarter. However, Ian Book exploded with a 35-yard touchdown pass to put the Fighting Irish over the top, and the Panthers could not recover.

In that game and many of the Pittsburgh's other losses of the season, the root of its inability to rally back on offense comes from the Panthers' timid passing game.

Although sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett has the makings of a deep threat on offense—the Oakhurst, N.J., native currently sits at a reasonable 62 completion percentage and has recorded 50-plus yard bombs against Georgia Tech, No. 10 Central Florida and Syracuse—Pittsburgh has been fundamentally hampered by ineffective use of its wideouts.

With top receiver Taysir Mack struggling with injuries all season, the Panthers' receiving corps has looked anemic, notching just six touchdowns and averaging 145.9 yards per game. Against Notre Dame, Pittsburgh recorded just 126 yards through the air, with Aaron Matthews leading the way with just 47 net yards.

"Offensively they have a great O-line, great backs, explosive team," Duke defensive end Victor Dimukeje said. "We have to stop the run and get them in a passing situation and then get after the quarterback."

To compensate for a weak receiving squad, the Panthers have instead opted for an effective, albeit predictable, rush-heavy offense.

Led by running backs Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall—each of which average over six yards per carry—Pittsburgh has opted to put the majority of its offense on the shoulders of its backs and offensive line, wedging right through opponents' defensive front. The Panthers sit as the No. 45 rushing offense in the nation, with 13 rushing touchdowns at 191.3 yards per game on the ground.

"[In Pitt] I see an aggressive team," Duke running back Deon Jackson said. "We’ve seen enough film—they like to play the run a lot. They play the line hard, backer’s field hard. Typical Pitt I would say."  

Defensively, Pittsburgh has been relatively unremarkable, albeit with occasional flashes of potential. The Panthers average allowing 5.83 yards per play, and have allowed Syracuse, North Carolina, No. 17 Penn State and the Knights to break 35 points. Conversely, Pittsburgh has also limited traditionally explosive offenses such as the Yellow Jackets and the Fighting Irish to less than 20 points.

Sitting at a 3-4 line and coming back from a bye week, the Panthers will undoubtedly be ready to take on the Blue Devils at home, especially considering Pittsburgh has a two-game margin for error to remain bowl-eligible. With a schedule that includes Virginia, Virginia Tech and Miami on the horizon, the Panthers will undoubtedly play to the last minute to claw back a hope of making it to the postseason.

"We have to bring it every play, every snap," Jackson said. "Pitt is a really physical team and that’s something we harped on today in meeting, matching their physicality and putting out more effort and making sure we come out on top."


Share and discuss “Scouting the opponent: Which Pittsburgh team will take the field Saturday?” on social media.