In the six wins tallied by the Pittsburgh Panthers (6-2, 3-1 ACC) during the 2021 college football season, all but one have come by at least 10 points, with an average margin of victory of more than 35 points in the other five games. But their two losses have come by a combined total of seven points, the most recent of which — a 38-34 home loss to Miami last Saturday — they'll look to bounce back from against a Duke Blue Devils team that has yet to notch a win in ACC play so far this season.
That trend continued on Saturday when the Blue Devils (3-5, 0-4) were held scoreless until the fourth quarter en route to a 45-7 blowout loss to the now-No. 9 Wake Forest Demon Deacons. The loss marked Duke's second in as many games with fewer than 10 points scored — and third in the last four — as the Blue Devils' five losses have come by an average of nearly 25 points.
Ever since Pat Narduzzi took the helm at Pittsburgh after the conclusion of the 2014 season, the Panthers have had their way with the Blue Devils. Pittsburgh has won the last five meetings — and six of the last seven — to advance their lead in the all-time series to 15-9.
No. 25 Pittsburgh at Duke
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 6 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Pittsburgh -21
When Pittsburgh Has the Ball
Panthers may not typically have wings, but this year’s Pittsburgh offense comes awfully close to a high-flying unit. Virginia’s 545.2 total yards per game lead the conference, but the Panthers are close behind with 529.3. Pitt has gained 371.1 of those yards through the air, once again trailing only Virginia’s 401 for the high mark in the ACC. In fact, the Cavaliers and Panthers rank as the top two passing offenses among Power 5 teams, joined in the top 10 by Mississippi State (5th) and Ohio State (6th).
Kenny Pickett has thrown for 26 touchdowns and rushed for three more in 2021, and he enters Week 10 ranked fourth in the FBS with those 29 touchdowns in the Panthers' eight games while tying for the conference lead (with Duke's Gunnar Holmberg) for completion rate (69.2 percent). Pickett's favorite target has been Jordan Addison, who paces the ACC with 10 touchdown catches and is among the leaders in both receiving yards (101.9, third) and catches (5.9, fifth) per game. Addison led the way against Miami with 145 of Pickett's 519 yards, but it was Jared Wayne, Israel Abanikanda, and Jaylon Barden who each brought Pickett's scoring strikes.
Despite the Panthers' prolific passing game, Pittsburgh has maintained a fairly even balance when it comes to running plays (310 rushing attempts vs. 318 passes). The production hasn't been nearly as successful, however, with the Panthers in the bottom half of the ACC at just 158 rushing yards per game. Abanikanda and Rodney Hammond Jr. are the top two rushers, with each leading the team in three games this season, while Pickett and Vincent Davis have done it in the other two contests.
These versatile playmakers will likely continue the struggles for Duke's defense, which has surrendered an ACC-worst 33.2 points and 473.8 total yards per game this season. The Blue Devils are roughly average in making plays behind the line of scrimmage, but only six teams nationally allow more total yards through the air … none of which enter Week 10 above .500 as they combine for an 11-45 record.
When Duke Has the Ball
The Blue Devils' struggles on offense have largely mirrored those of their defense, especially lately. Duke mustered 41 points in the entire month of October, which unsurprisingly led to losses in all four games. One glimmer of hope, however, is that the Blue Devils' best performance last month came in its only game in Durham — a 31-27 loss to Georgia Tech on Oct. 9 — while being held to just one touchdown apiece against North Carolina and Wake Forest and getting shut out on the road against Virginia.
As the Blue Devils return home and look to reclaim some of their momentum in Durham, a key indicator of the offense's fortunes will be how quickly it can put points on the board. Across its three wins this season — all at home and coming consecutively within a 16-day span — Duke scored 72 first-half points, compared to just 28 in the five losses.
While struggling to find the end zone, the Blue Devils have actually managed to be fairly productive in piling up yards, which is to be expected somewhat as they have played behind for the vast majority of their games. Duke has produced a total of 620 yards in the last two weeks, a sharp contrast from the first half of the season when they failed just once to put up at least 400 yards and surpassed 500 three times. Gunnar Holmberg offers a prime example: Holmberg enters Week 10 among the top third of the nation's quarterbacks in passing yards but has thrown just six touchdowns so far this season, though he's rushed for six more. Mataeo Durant, on the other hand, is one of just seven FBS players with at least 120 rushing yards per game in 2021, with his 186 ranking him second among Power 5 running backs — behind only fellow ACC ball carrier Sean Tucker (Syracuse).
Durant has six 100-yard rushing games (including one with more than 200) this season, but Pittsburgh's defense will quite possibly be the toughest he has faced to date. The Panthers are No. 1 in the ACC against the run, holding teams to 104.6 yards per game entering Week 10. Pitt has been considerably more generous against the pass (236 ypg) but contrasts that with a knack for takeaways. Only Wake Forest (17) has more turnovers than the Panthers' 12. This defense also makes its presence known in the backfield as defensive lineman Habakkuk Baldonado spearheads a group that has notched 3.12 sacks and nearly six tackles for a loss per game.
Pittsburgh had quietly been inching up the rankings until its loss to Miami, but this week's matchup against Duke offers a perfect chance for a rebound. The Panthers' offense continues to click while their defense will aim to keep Duke under the 490 yards it allowed to Miami last week, which shouldn't be tough despite the Blue Devils' relative success in Durham compared to its woeful performances on the road.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 48, Duke 17
Podcast: Week 10 Predictions, CFB Playoff Rankings Debate and Conference Expansion News
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.