From the stands: Duke v. Pittsburgh

The Blue Devils earned a thrilling victory over Pittsburgh on Saturday, beating the Panthers 51-48 in double overtime. It was a big time result for a number of reasons, and we recount them from the stands.

RECAP

In the second overtime the Duke defense held Pittsburgh to a 43 yard field goal, allowing the Blue Devils a chance to win. Coach Cutcliffe’s team drove down the field and set up a five yard Thomas Sirk touchdown run to seal the victory.

The defensive stop was somewhat unique as the Blue Devils had no answer for the Pittsburgh offense throughout the contest. Sophomore running back James Conner ran for three touchdowns and seemingly endless yardage. The Panthers’ star rushed 38 times for 268 yards.

Pittsburgh had a chance to win the game in regulation, but missed a short field goal attempt with no time remaining, giving Duke a second chance.

DUKE EXPECTATIONS

Leading into the game Coach Cutcliffe said his staff was worried about the physical advantages Pittsburgh enjoyed all over the field. He said Duke would try to counter those match up problems with good execution, veteran play, and conditioning.

Well, two out of three ain’t bad. And the third came in when it counted.

For most of the game the Blue Devil defense missed a far more tackles than they made, allowing Pittsburgh to run up an down the field. All told the Panthers out-gained Duke 594-438 and held the ball for a ridiculous 41:08 to just 18:52 for the Blue Devils.

So how did Duke counter? Timely plays.

After Pittsburgh tied the game at 31, Duke responded with a 99 yard kick off return by Devon Edwards. In the second overtime the Blue Devils, who couldn’t stop the Panther ground game all day long, stopped James Conner for no gain on first down. On second down Duke stopped Chad Voytik on a designed quarterback draw which had gouged the defense for most of the second half. Then, on a crucial third down, Dwayne Norman hurried Voytik into a poor pass down the middle.

Pitt settled for a field goal.

‘[Limiting Pitt to a field goal] was a glimpse of how we should have been playing at the beginning of the game,” said Dezmond Johnson. “The game did not go the way that it should have. We did not play as well as we would have liked, especially prior to overtime. Limiting them to a field goal rejuvenated us and let us know what we should have been doing since the beginning of the game.”

Duke then took the field as the fresher and more disciplined team. It began with junior Shaquille Powell running for 19 yards on two carries to move the ball to the Pittsburgh six. After Anthony Boone pushed the pile for another yard, Thomas Sirk carried the ball home for the win.

“That was a team victory,” said Cutcliffe. “We were resilient, continued to fight and believed down to the very end.”

For years Duke wasn’t resilient, nor competitive. Losing bred losing. Now, the Blue Devils are assured of a second straight winning season and are in a legit position to make a return trip to Charlotte for the ACC Championship game.

IMPROVING HEALTHY STARS

Jamison Crowder moved into second on the all-time ACC receptions list with a huge game against the Panthers. The nine catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns was the senior receiver’s best game of the year, and it ran concurrent to Anthony Boone’s best game of the season. The fifth year quarterback led the team in rushing (7 attempts for 47 yards) and completed 23-of-31 passes for 266 yards with three scores and no interceptions.

“Both of them are healthier than they’ve been and I’m very proud of both of those guys,” said Cutcliffe. “It has been really positive in practice and it showed on the field today.”

For his part, Crowder said the start of the big game began early on.

“Coach came to me before the game and said that he was going to go to me early in the game, and he did.”

“Once I caught the first ball my confidence went up helping me catch the second one and that led me to tell coach to give me a chance for the third one. I just needed to make the play. In the end it helped my confidence out during the remainder of the game.”

STATISTICAL STUDS

- Boone had himself a ball game. He accounted for three passing touchdowns and an additional one on the ground. He completed 74 percent of his passes and managed the game as well as possible.

- Will Monday booted three punts for an average of 46.3 yards per kick including a 57 yard bomb.

- Crowder logged nine catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns, though it should have been three scores as he was erroneously called out of bounds at the end of the first half.

- Freshman running back Shaun Wilson caught four balls for 43 yards and a touchdown. He added another 43 yards on eight carries.

- Defensively Duke got a big game from DeVon Edwards with eight tackles, but Edwards added another 160 yards on kick-off returns including the 99 yard score.

- Linebackers C.J. France and David Helton were very busy on the day dealing with James Conner. Each backer recorded double digit tackles with Helton 11.5 stops and France adding 10.5. France led the team with eight solo stops as well.

NEXT

Duke will be favored when the Blue Devils travel to Syracuse to face the Orange in the Carrier Dome. A win moves Duke to 8-1 on the year and 4-1 in the ACC.



FOLLOW UPS

On Sunday night Coach Cutcliffe said that if Duke was able to complete the dream of running the table and winning in Charlotte, he would “absolutely” campaign for the team to be in the College Football Playoff.

Cutcliffe added that Deondre Singleton’s injury doesn’t, at first glance, appear to be a long term situation, but it’s too early to tell. The player will rehab on Sunday and Monday and hopes to practice on Tuesday. The Duke coach credited his staff for preparing young players such as Everett Edwards to be ready to go in case of an injury.

THEY SAID IT

“If I would’ve called for a field goal, I think our players would’ve taken a timeout and told me no.  When you have the ball inside the one yard line I thought for sure it would’ve been ruled a touchdown. I knew we had a good play, and during that timeout there was no discussion about it.” - Cutcliffe on the decision to go for the touchdown in the first half



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