Last October, Duke was on the short end of a 54-45 shootout in Pittsburgh, a loss that virtually eliminated any hopes of an ACC championship game appearance.
Now, the Blue Devils have their shot at revenge.
Duke returns home to take on the Panthers Saturday night at 8 p.m. at Wallace Wade Stadium, the team’s first home game since Sept. 7. The Blue Devils haven’t beaten Pittsburgh since 2014, but head coach David Cutcliffe believes a new season can help turn around those struggles.
“There’s a reason they were Coastal Division champions a year ago and this team is much like the team they had a year ago. I can’t say enough about their program. We haven’t been as successful as we’d like to be against them, but this is this year, a new opportunity and we’re happy to be back home.”
The biggest matchup to watch out for is Duke’s offensive line against the Panthers’ defensive line. Pittsburgh (3-2, 0-1 in the ACC) ranks second in the country this season at 4.8 sacks per game, with redshirt sophomore Jaylen Twyman and redshirt senior Kylan Johnson leading the way at six and four sacks on the season, respectively.
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils have allowed only one total sack for 0.25 per contest, tied for first in the country. Center Jack Wohlabaugh serves as the leader of that stout front line, picking up ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week following Duke’s win at Virginia Tech. The former four-star prospect transferred to the Blue Devils prior to last season after riding the bench for two years at Ohio State.
“We’ve done a good job to this point, but it’s always just to this point,” Cutcliffe said of his offensive line’s performance this season. “I think you look at it for both teams. I think that’s a huge matchup. One emphasis we’ve had is [to] try to get to the quarterback and finish sacks. We still missed a few too many. The only thing more devastating than a sack in a game is a turnover. So, I think the turnover ratio and the sack ratio will be a big part of this football game.”
Duke’s offense has enjoyed a torrid hot streak with three consecutive 40-point outputs, an overall offensive display that few can say they saw coming from the Blue Devils entering the year. But against Pittsburgh, 40 wouldn’t have even been enough in year’s past.
The Panthers have scored at least 48 points in four of their last six matchups with Duke (3-1, 1-0), including above 50 in two of the past three. Nevertheless, redshirt senior Quentin Harris assures the team isn’t preparing for another shootout.
“Not necessarily,” Harris said on whether the offense feels like it’ll have to score a lot of points to win this weekend. “We just know we’re going to have to score as many points as we can, and that’s just the goal each and every week.”
Jake Bobo’s return to the field will certainly help accomplish that goal. The sophomore wide receiver entered fall camp looking like the team’s No. 1 wideout before undergoing surgery for a fractured clavicle. Bobo saw his first receptions of the year against Virginia Tech last Friday, hauling in two catches for 12 yards.
The Blue Devils will likely be without running back Brittain Brown, though. The redshirt junior re-injured his shoulder after just two rushes against the Hokies, with Cutcliffe saying he was going to talk to the Canton, Ga., native about a possible surgery. Expect sophomore tailback Mataeo Durant—who led the team with 53 receiving yards against Virginia Tech—to continue to step up in Brown's absence.
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In the end, this weekend’s matchup provides yet another test to pass for this seemingly overperforming Duke squad. Pittsburgh took the crown that many Blue Devil fans saw within their grasp a year ago, though a win Saturday will put the team one step closer to reaching that crown this season.
Furthermore, Duke will be celebrating Durham Day this Saturday night. So, although many of the university’s students will be heading home this weekend for fall break, Harris expects great support from the Durham faithful at Wallace Wade Stadium.
“It’s been great. They’ve had a couple different slogans since I’ve been here, but I think the Bull City has really caught on and the little hand signal as well,” Harris said. “That seems to be a pretty unifying thing for us. It’s been great just to have the support of Durham and to really honor Durham for our game. So really excited about that, looking forward to having a Saturday night game in Wallace Wade here and looking forward to packing the house.”