Surging Blue Devils host Panthers in key ACC Coastal matchup
In the crazy ACC Coastal, Saturday night's game between Pittsburgh and Duke could play an important role in determining who emerges as the division champ. Pittsburgh is 0-1 in the league after dropping its season opener to Coastal favorite Virginia, but the Panthers have won two in a row, including an upset of then-No. 15 UCF. With seven ACC games remaining, Pat Narduzzi's crew is not dead yet.
Duke is 1-0 in the conference following last Friday's impressive 45-10 smackdown of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Following its loss to Alabama on Labor Day weekend, Duke has won its last three games by a combined score of 131-41. The month of October features nothing but Coastal foes, and that begins with Pitt on Saturday.
The Panthers hold a 14-9 series edge and have won eight of the last nine meetings.
Pittsburgh at Duke
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 5 at 8:00 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ACC Network
Spread: Duke -5
When Pittsburgh Has the Ball
Quarterback Kenny Pickett is expected to play after missing last week's game against Delaware with a shoulder injury. Nick Patti filled in well against the Blue Hens, but Pickett has been a key component in Pitt's offensive success this season. The junior has completed 61 percent of his passes and has gone for over 300 yards twice in four starts. Of Pitt's 133 completions so far in 2019, 72 of them have gone to either Maurice Ffrench or Taysir Mack. Ffrench is tied for the national lead with 40 receptions, and Mack's 32 put him in the No. 12 spot.
Pittsburgh will be winging it around against Duke, but the Panthers may have found something in the running game during the past two weeks. After rushing for just 262 yards in the first three games, Pitt ran for 196 versus UCF and 172 against Delaware. A.J. Davis had 65 yards against the Knights but missed the Delaware game with an unspecified injury and is listed as questionable this week. Todd Sibley Jr. stepped in and had 106 yards against Delaware and will be ready if Davis can’t go or is limited.
Balance is something that Pittsburgh will need, because the Duke defense has been solid in all aspects, and that was especially true last Friday at Lane Stadium. Virginia Tech had just 120 yards passing and 139 yards rushing as the Blue Devils D put the clamps on the Hokies' offense. The Panthers must account for Koby Quansah on every play, as the Duke senior linebacker is third in the ACC in tackles per game.
When Duke Has the Ball
Much like the defense, the Duke offense is a very balanced group, passing for 222 yards per game and rushing for 194. But it will be a chore trying to establish the run against a Pittsburgh defensive front that is allowing just 92 yards rushing per game. The Panthers stifled the potent UCF ground attack, holding the Knights to just 2.5 yards per carry in the upset win two weeks ago.
Pitt gets contributions from all over its defense, with the front seven being especially nasty. The Panthers are second in the land in sacks with 24 and are able to get pressure from several players up front. Sophomore Jaylen Twyman has been a force from his tackle position, while Kylan Johnson, Deslin Alexandre, and Habakkuk Baldonado are disruptive on the edge.
Fortunately for Duke, the Devils have a senior quarterback who has shown that he can handle the heat. Quentin Harris had another quality performance against Virginia Tech, completing 20-of-27 passes with two touchdowns while rushing for an even 100 and another score. Pittsburgh can be susceptible to big passing plays, but Duke doesn't stretch the field that often. Still, the matchup of Devils receivers Jalon Calhoun and Aaron Young along with tight end Noah Gray versus the Pittsburgh secondary led by Paris Ford and Damar Hamlin will be fun to watch.
Though it has improved in recent weeks, Pittsburgh has had trouble running the ball this fall. On the other side, the Panthers' run defense has been outstanding. So while both teams would love to be able to run the ball, expect a lot of passing in this game. The difference will be Pitt’s explosiveness on both offense and defense. The Panther receivers are more capable of making big plays, and their defense is more adept at pushing the other team backward. After playing three solid games in a row, Duke loses at home in a close, low-scoring affair.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 21, Duke 17
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.