JAMES CONNER IS ONE OF A KIND
All Pitt fans know how great running back James Conner is both on and off the field, but on Saturday night, he was able to establish his place as one of the best players in ACC history. His two rushing touchdowns vaulted him into first place on the ACC all-time touchdowns list with 53. He also stands alone as the all-time leader in rushing touchdowns for the ACC with 50.
Conner’s presence on the ground helped anchor Pitt’s offense as he totaled 101 yards on 14 carries with two rushing touchdowns. He also converted two third downs for the Panthers and complemented quarterback Nate Peterman’s passing attack perfectly.
“I really just owe it all to the University,” said a humble Conner after the game.
A BALANCED OFFENSE WORKS FOR PITT
It may be no surprise that Pitt recorded its ninth game with more than 400 total yards on offense, but the way they did it shows a change in offensive philosophy from the beginning of the season. This last contest marks the sixth time this season in which Pitt had more passing yards than rushing yards. This occasion also occurred for the fourth consecutive game.
Peterman had a phenomenal game throwing 11 for 18 with 237 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Wide receivers Jester Weah and Dontez Ford both caught 2 passes with one touchdown and registered 95-yard and 39-yard games respectively. Tight end Scott Orndoff also contributed with 2 catches for 58 yards and a touchdown grab of his own.
As a team, Pitt earned 224 yards on the ground and scored 4 touchdowns. This included solid performances by both wide receiver Quadree Henderson (5 carries, 73 yards and 1 touchdown) and running back Quadree Ollison (4 carries, 10 yards and 1 touchdown).
Conner credits this success on the ground to the offensive line.
“I got some hogs up front,” Conner said. “They did a great job moving people, and it was easy for me thanks to them.”
QUADREE HENDERSON IS AN ABSOLUTE THREAT
Besides his rushing numbers, Quadree Henderson reminded everyone why he is one of the most dynamic players in college football. With 11:17 left in the third quarter, he returned a Duke punt 65 yards for a touchdown that extended Pitt’s lead to 42-14. The NCAA’s leader in kickoff return touchdowns this season scored his eighth and ninth total touchdowns this year.
“As soon as I stick my foot on that field, that’s when I turn the jets on,” said Henderson. “I just ran through a bunch of arm tackles. You can’t get arm tackled in this league.” He tallied 162 all-purpose yards against Duke, which will cause his season average of 149.8 yards per game (13th in the NCAA) to increase.
THE FRONT SEVEN CONTINUES TO SMOTHER OPPONENTS
For the sixth time this season, Pitt’s defense has held its opponent under 100 yards rushing, as Duke amassed only 25 as a team. Blue Devil Quarterback Daniel Jones was also sacked 5 times by Pitt’s tenacious interior defenders. Defensive end Ejuan Price had an incredible performance with 2 sacks, 3 tackles for a loss and 2 quarterback hurries.
“I think it was a dominating day for us and I think that overall our guys were locked in from the very beginning,” said Price.
He was not the only one who came to play. Linebackers Quintin Wirginis and Saleem Brightwell both recorded 1 sack each, and linebacker Oluwaseun Idowu forced a fumble. The team also recorded 9 total tackles for a loss as they kept the pressure on the Blue Devils the entire game.
THE SECONDARY PLAYED MUCH BETTER… YES, I JUST SAID THAT
In a remarkable turnaround from giving up 580 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air against Clemson, Pitt’s secondary gave up only 243 yards and 1 passing touchdown to Duke. This snaps Pitt’s streak of three consecutive games giving up over 300 yards passing.
“They had one good pass on us, the bubble screen early in the game,” said coach Pat Narduzzi. “But for the most part when the defense gives up just seven points you have to be happy.”
The largest pass play given up by Pitt’s secondary was a 43-yard play off of a screen pass from Jones to receiver T.J. Rahming in the first quarter. Besides that particular play, no noticeable mistakes were made by the safeties and cornerbacks. Safety Terrish Webb had 5 tackles and forced 1 fumble, while cornerback Ryan Lewis had 1 sack and 1 tackle for a loss.