Matchups: Pitt-Duke

It's Pitt's first road conference game as a member of the ACC. These two teams last met on October 2, 1976, a 44-31 Pitt win in Durham

Matchup Preview | September, 21 2013; 12:30 PM, Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, NC
Duke Blue Devils
(2-1, 0-1)
Pitt Panthers
(1-1, 0-1)
Pitt goes back to facing a more conventional offense this week, after facing New Mexico's triple-option attack. Interestingly, more conventional now means a dual-threat quarterback in the form of Brandon Connette (6-3, 225). The Blue Devils lost starter Anthony Boone two weeks ago, to a broken collarbone, but this is no your typical backup. First of all, there is no dropoff in terms of talent. Connette has been pretty efficient the year, completing just under 60 percent of his passes, throwing four touchdowns and just one interception. On top of that, Connette can run too. He leads the able Devils, for the season, with 147.7 total yards of offense per game. The biggest factor in Pitt stopping New Mexico's triple-option attack was getting a good push up front from Aaron Donald. If Donald and fellow defensive tackle Tyrone Ezell can get a good push back off the line, it will give the Panthers their best chance. This game will also give defensive ends Bryan Murphy and David Durham to showcase their abilities. Defensive coordinator Matt House said this week, in order to create more turnovers, he wants to get more hats to the ball. With a good push up front, Murphy and Durham should be in position to make plays. The biggest thing there, is simply finishing the play.
Duke brings a pretty good two-headed monster attack, in the form of sophomore running back Jela Duncan(5-10, 210) and senior Juwan Thompson (5-11, 225). Expect to see a balanced attack between the two. Duncan is averaging 11 carries a game, Thompson around eight carries a game. Impressive through three games, the fact that Duncan averages 5.8 yards a carry, Thompson 4.5.

Pitt got a big boost last week as Todd Thomas returned to the starting lineup. The linebackers have been tested pretty well in their first two games, facing a pretty potent Florida State attack, and New Mexico's triple-option. What Matt House would like to see this week, is a solid four quarters. Last week, the linebackers had the challenge of staying on their keys. They have similar challenge this week, only in shutting down a pair of power backs in Duncan and Thompson.
It's not a very big offensive line for Duke. From left to right, Duke lines up with junior Takoby Cofield (6-4, 305), senior Dave Harding (6-4, 285), sophomore Matt Skura (6-4, 290), junior Laken Tomlinson (6-3, 320) and senior Perry Simmons (6-5, 300). This group has multiple responsibilities because of Connette's dual-threat abilities, and the use of multiple running backs. In pass protection, the line has allowed just five sacks in 93 passing attempts.

The defensive line will have its hands full, in simply getting pressure on Conette. Duke's limited sacks allowed (five) combined with just one interception this year from Connette is no coincidence. The defensive line must get to Connette. Despite having the size advantage, it's going to take a pretty good effort from the group as a whole. Being undersized at center and left guard, expect Donald to see a lot of double-teams. If that happens, it's imperative that Ezell, Murphy and Durham establish a presence of their own.
Pitt has already seen one of the ACC's best in Lamarcus Joyner. Now, they get another in the form of Duke corner Ross Cockrell (6-0, 190). Cockrell is a true shutdown corner. Cockrell has one interception on the year, and is a true shutdown corner. Duke has some flexibility in defending Pitt's receivers. Cockrell will defend either Devin Street or Tyler Boyd. That will allow Breon Borders (6-0, 175) and Garett Patterson (6-1, 190) to double-team the other. Of course, we may also see Manasseh Garner at wideout to distract the Blue Devils from a double-team. If that's the case, it will be fun to watch both coaching staffs go at it in a chess match, of sorts.
We've now learned that freshman Tyler Boyd (eight catches, 160 yards) has adjusted well to the college game. Pitt's biggest playmaking threat Devin Street still leads the team with 11 catches for 221 yards. In other words, Boyd has stolen the show, while Street is on pace for a career year. Boyd may have grabbed the focus early on in the season. What's fun from a Pitt perspective, is seeing Street is kind of the forgotten guy. We saw Garner get more involved as a receiver last week. We may see the same this week, even if he's used as a decoy. Could we see someone else like Kevin Weatherspoon used as a decoy? Regardless, things are going better than expected so far for the Pitt receivers. Can they continue to produce, and should we expect to see even more personnel involved? Tom Savage took his comfort level to a whole new level last week. It's safe to say the rust is shaken off. He's got to cut down on interceptions. Specifically, with Cockrell. All four of Savage's interceptions have come on first down, with him telegraphing his passes too much, making it easy for defenders to read him, jump the route and make the pick. Cockrell is a corner that can make Pitt pay if Savage focuses in too much on a certain receiver.
Duke's got a true middle linebacker in junior Kelby Brown (6-2, 230). Brown leads Duke with 31 tackles--an average of just over 10 tackles per game. What's even more impressive, the fact that Duke will employ just two linebackers. Junior C.J. France (6-0, 230) is the other we'll see. However, even an outside linebacker like France is versatile--playing like a middle linebacker, yet lined up at the WILL. Duke employs a lot of secondary personnel. However, with limited use of the linebackers, this group doesn't need numbers to be effective against the run.
Pitt's ground game got on track with a pair of 100-yard performances from Isaac Bennett and James Conner. We expect to see a balanced attack from these two once again. Now that they've proven they can both rush for over 100 yards in the same game, look again for equal distribution of carries. Duke may even lay off the ground game, in order to help shutdown the biggest threats--Boyd and Street. If that's the case, it not only gives the Duke coaching staff something extra to think about, but it opens the door wider for Bennett and Conner to produce.
Duke kicker Ross Martin is a perfect 12-12 on extra point attempts this year, and he's had three of 15 kickoffs go for touchbacks. Punter Will Monday is one of the ACC's best, averaging 45.3 yards on 17 punts this season. Coverage units do their best in playing the field position game. They've allowed just 21.6 yards per kickoff return. Freshman kicker Chris Blewitt is perfect so for this season--8-8 on point attempts, and perfect on both field goal attempts. Matt Yoklic was only called in to punt once last week. Pitt is looking for a better performance on its kick coverage units. Last week, Pitt allowed 24.8 yards on seven kickoff returns, including a 74-yarder. Whoever lines up has to stay in their lanes. Yes, it's that simple. Coverage units have to be more disciplined this week. The Blue Devils are averaging 20.7 yards a return this season, fifth in the ACC.

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