It’s no secret that Pittsburgh has dominated Duke recently—the last time the Blue Devils beat the Panthers was in 2014.
Duke will welcome Pittsburgh to Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday, returning to Durham for the first time in nearly a month. The Blue Devils are up against the reigning ACC Coastal Division champions and this year’s Panthers already resemble the 2018 squad that ripped off a five-game ACC winning streak a year ago.
“[Pittsburgh head coach] Pat Narduzzi has developed a program,” Duke head coach David Cutliffe said. “The Pittsburgh team year in and year out looks pretty much the same. They’re physical, Pat does a great job coaching defense. They always have weapons on offense. They can run it. An outstanding quarterback and receiving crew and tight ends. They’re very successful throwing the football. Probably even more balanced than they were in the past.”
Even though the Panthers lost two of their primary running backs from last season in Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall, Pittsburgh still has a talented crop of runners, including sophomore V’lique Carter. As a freshman, Carter contributed 137 yards in last year's matchup with Duke.
Pittsburgh’s reliable quarterback, Kenny Pickett, will incite a lot of offense on the field this weekend, but only if he plays. Pickett, along with other crucial members of the team, was out in the contest with Delaware last weekend. With no word on whether Pickett and a host of running backs, defensive backs and linebackers will join the team again this weekend, the Panthers' lineup is up in the air.
Pittsburgh currently sits with a 3-2 record, though the team has shown what it’s made of already this season in a back-to-back performances against top-tier programs. The team kept up with then-No. 13 Penn State for much of the first three quarters before eventually falling 17-10. Pittsburgh was more successful the next weekend, pulling off a major upset in a matchup with then-No. 15 Central Florida. The team's stout defense deserves a lot of the credit for the Panthers' early-season success.
“They have a lot of sacks, 24 so far this season so it’s just a testament to their ability to pass rush,” quarterback Quentin Harris said. "I think they get the field really well. They mix in some blitzes which can compromise some protections at points. They’re a really talented group.”
In two of the teams' last three matchups, Duke has allowed Pittsburgh to put up at least 50 points. Although most of those points were attributed to a strong rushing game, expect the Panthers to be a more pass-oriented offense with the addition of new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple.
“Last year they put up a lot of numbers on the ground, so our main goal right now is delivering the run and the rest will take care of itself,” linebacker Koby Quansah said.
A win this weekend could mean a lot for Duke. Although the Blue Devils were able to beat their first ACC opponent in Virginia Tech, the Hokies have not been playing up to their usual standard. A victory against the Panthers will be Duke’s true test to really see where the team is at going forward.
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