Defense to be tested again by Duke

After the Pitt defense struggled in losses against North Carolina and Notre Dame, Pat Narduzzi hopes the Panthers can establish traction on that side of the ball.

Pitt struggled stop the run against North Carolina two weeks ago and couldn't gain traction against Notre Dame's rushing attack Saturday. Not coincidentally, the Panthers lost both of those games. 

Now with back-to-back losses for the first time this season, Narduzzi stressed for the third week in a row the need to stop the opposition's ground attack. Pitt (6-3, 4-1 ACC) head to Duke (6-3, 3-2 ACC) for a matchup at Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday where head coach Pat Narduzzi hopes the defense can improve against the run.

"They know what they’re doing," Narduzzi said of Duke. "Very similar to North Carolina, very similar to Notre Dame-type run game. Obviously different guys running and blocking and different quarterback but they like to run the football."

Duke's quarterback, Thomas Sirk, leads the team with five touchdowns and 555 yards on the ground. The Blue Devils feature Shaquille Powell, who's rushed 98 times for 449 yards and three touchdowns this season, and Shaun Wilson, 68 carries for 313 yards and two scores, out of the backfield. 

The Panthers know all about Duke's ability to run and score the football. Pitt lost to Duke 51-48 in overtime last season after the Panthers beat the Blue Devils 58-55 in Durham two years ago. 

Narduzzi has made it clear he doesn't care much about what happened before he got here, but he probably wants to see Pitt play a different style of game this time around. He hopes this week will help the Panthers find their bearings on defense facing a spread attack for the third week in a row. 

"You’ve got to clean up the details," Narduzzi said. "That’s the great thing about coming back, we’re going to see three weeks in a row the same type of spread offense, tight end in the backfield, lining up in trips, lining up in two-by-twos, where our guys are going to have the same opportunity to do things over and fix the problems we’ve had."

Pitt now has two full weeks of game tape against such offenses, and the coaching staff spent roughly two hours going over the film from Notre Dame yesterday. That should seem to help. 

"There’s no better tool than watching game tape," Narduzzi said. "None."

Notes
  • Two Panthers were recognized by the ACC for their play against Notre Dame, after Pitt didn't have anyone win a weekly award from the league for the first time this season the week prior. Jordan Whitehead was named the ACC Rookie of the Week after he led all players with 11 tackles and also scored two touchdowns on four carries for 27 yards as he took offensive snaps for the first time as a Panther. Ejuan Price was named the ACC Co-Defensive Lineman of the Week after he posted eight tackles, 2.5 for loss, two sacks and returned a fumble 32 yards for a touchdown. Price leads the team with 11 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. 
  • Speaking of Price, Narduzzi was asked about the potential for the fifth-year senior to return for another season. Price missed all of the 2012 and 2014 seasons with separate chest injuries, and only played in six games before his 2013 season ended with a back injury. Narduzzi said he has talked about it with Price and indicated both sides have an interest in him returning for another season, if the option becomes available. 
  • In regards to Whitehead, it seems the plan all along has been to get him in on offense but Narduzzi and his coaching staff wanted to ensure he had a complete understanding of his defensive responsibilities before he was given more to learn on offense. Once Whitehead reached that point, Narduzzi handed him over to offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and the offense for a bit.
    "[Chaney's] been begging for him and early in the season we just couldn’t afford to do it because he had so much to learn on defense. At this point, I think he knows what he’s doing on defense. He has a pretty good grasp of what he has to do back there. We had some reps in camp we put him in there, so it’s been a slow process."
    No matter what Whitehead does, though, the staff still envisions him as a player on defense long-term. 
  • Pitt announced the kickoff for the Nov. 21 game against Louisville will be at 3:30 or 3:45. If the game is at 3:30, it will be broadcast on either ESPN2 or ESPNU. If it kicks at the latter, ESPNews will televise the game. The ACC will officially announce the times and networks of that weekend's games after this week's games are played Saturday.

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