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PREVIEW: Duke v. Pittsburgh

The Blue Devils will look to break a two game losing streak when they host the Pittsburgh Panthers in the final home game of the season on Saturday.

Eight laterals, a number of missed calls, and Duke’s season went from ultra promising to teetering on the brink of disappointment?  

That could be somewhat of an over simplification of the game against Miami, but things got a lot worse last week when North Carolina called off the dogs instead of hanging 70 or, perhaps 80 points on a Duke defense that was, quite frankly, lost against a much faster opponent.   

Maybe it was a hangover from the disappointment against the Hurricanes.  Maybe it was just a bad matchup against North Carolina.  Perhaps a combination of both.  But whatever last weekend was for Duke Football, a repeat performance this weekend could throw this team into a tailspin from which it cannot recover. 

Breaking the two game losing streak won’t be easy as the Pittsburgh Panthers come into Wallace Wade stadium with plenty of experience and enough weapons to hand Duke a third straight defeat.  

Here’s the key points we’re tracking…

PANTHERS AERIAL ATTACK v. DUKE

Two weeks ago the Blue Devils had a top five overall defense and teams were struggling to move the ball at all against Duke.   Especially through the air.  Over the last 14 days the defense has been exposed as a somewhat vulnerable group against a capable passing offense.  And that’s just what the Panthers will bring to Wallace Wade in the form of standout wide receiver Tyler Boyd.   The junior will present a huge matchup problem for Coach Cutcliffe’s defense and could account for the majority of Pitt’s explosive chances down field.   That’s scary when you consider the Blue Devils have surrendered over 1,000 passing yards over the last three weeks. 

When Duke attempts to stack bodies in the box to stop the Panther run game, Boyd is going to be matched up in man-to-man coverage.  In that case the front six had better get to the quarterback or it could mean trouble down the field. 

SIRK’S PRODUCTION

Starting QB Thomas Sirk has been very good this season.  He ranks third in the ACC in total offense per game and has proven capable of accumulating yards on the ground or through the passing game.  However, this week’s injury report lists the junior as questionable.  The smart money is on Sirk playing, but if he’s listed as less than 100 percent there is reason for concern.  If Sirk can’t move as much it’ll force Duke to throw the ball a bit more.  That could be a blessing in disguise as the Panther secondary hasn’t been overly strong this year, but Sirk will need to be on top of his game and that starts with health. 

To keep Sirk upright and at least give him a chance to impact the game, Duke will have to focus on Pitt defensive end Ejuan Price and the pass rush which ranks third in the league with 26 quarterback sacks this year.  

THE PREDICTION

Both Duke and Pittsburgh started the season strong and both have had some bad breaks that have left each team somewhat desperate for a result.  Assuming Duke can scheme to keep Sirk from taking too many shots and the Blue Devil secondary can regain its form against the pass, the Blue Devils should be able to come away with the win.  It won’t be easy, but the pick is…

Duke 27

Pittsburgh 24


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