The independent news organization of Duke University

Third and goal: Duke football faces off against intimidating Panthers defensive line

Quentin Harris' speed will come useful against a Pittsburgh defense that has excelled at taking down the quarterback
Quentin Harris' speed will come useful against a Pittsburgh defense that has excelled at taking down the quarterback

Duke shined on both sides of the ball in its 45-10 drubbing of Virginia Tech, but receive another tough test via 2018 ACC Coastal champion Pittsburgh this Saturday night. The Blue Zone gives you three keys to Duke’s matchup against the Panthers:

Take the lead early

Pittsburgh may have been riding high after its thrilling win over UCF, but its narrow victory against Delaware has all but killed its momentum. That game should have been an easy blowout for the Panthers, but due to injuries and a stale offense, they looked lifeless and could hardly hang on to a lead. Going into this matchup, Duke has the advantage, not only in skill but in energy as well. If the Blue Devils can get on the scoreboard early, the rest will take care of itself. However, if Pittsburgh can attain a little bit of momentum, or even get the first touchdown, its spirits will surely be lifted back to where it was against UCF. Duke must take advantage of the home field and energy to get ahead and stay ahead if it wants to come out of this contest unscathed. 

Protect the QB 

One challenge that Duke will face this weekend is the Panthers' defense, especially their defensive line. As a team, Pittsburgh has 152 sack yards this season compared to just 56 sack yards for the Blue Devils. Leading the Panthers' defensive line this season is redshirt sophomore Jaylen Twyman with six sacks and 44 sack yards.

The Duke offense has done a great job of limiting sacks this season, but have yet to see a pass rush quite as talented as Pittsburgh. If the Blue Devil offensive line can hold off the Panthers' ferocious defenders, they should be able to limit turnovers and dominate the scoreboard.

Don’t let Pickett get hot

It’s no secret that Pittsburgh relies on its quarterback, Kenny Pickett. It is still unconfirmed whether he will play this weekend, as he was out for the team's game against Delaware with a shoulder injury. He was sorely missed, as the Panthers struggled to get their offense off the ground with backup Nick Patti under center. What should have been an easy win for Pittsburgh turned into a low-scoring nail-biter, which for the Panthers was disappointing to say the least. On the road this season, Pickett has completed 68.6 percent of his passes with a 129.9 passer rating. If he can return this weekend in full health, he will be Pittsburgh's one hope to steal a win at Wallace Wade Stadium.