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Duke will lean on backup QB vs. Pitt

| Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt receiver Devin Street shakes Florida State defender Tyler Hunter after a first-quarter catch Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, at Heinz Field.

When Duke coach David Cutcliffe spoke to reporters on a conference call this week, the first questions focused on quarterbacks — just not his current one, Brandon Connette.

Cutcliffe is one of the most respected quarterback coaches in college football, mentoring Peyton Manning and his predecessor, Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, as the offensive coordinator at Tennessee. Cutcliffe also coached Eli Manning as the head coach at Ole Miss, making him the only coach in SEC history to have two quarterbacks (the Mannings) throw for more than 10,000 yards.

That's nice and perhaps the answer to a trivia question, but Cutcliffe must find a way to help Connette defeat Pitt on Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, N.C. It's the second ACC game for both teams.

Connette has replaced Duke's best quarterback Anthony Boone, who broke his collarbone in the second game of the season.

Boone's injury is a bit of good fortune for Pitt. He completed 75 percent of his passes (27 for 36) for 275 yards in two games before his injury.

Connette bounced all over the roster before settling in as the backup this season. He threw for only 122 yards in a 38-14 loss last week to Georgia Tech.

Not his fault, Cutcliffe said.

“It wasn't really all him by any means,” Cutcliffe said. “That was one of the more disappointing things, that we didn't execute around him like we are capable of. He never hung his head.”

Pitt defensive coordinator Matt House said Connette, who has run for two touchdowns, will challenge his unit.

“Boone might have been a little more athletic, but (Connette) is a hard guy to tackle and he really, truly plays hard,” House said. “You watch him and you respect how he plays. He gets every inch out of his ability.

“He's one of those guys if he wasn't playing quarterback, he would play another position because he plays so hard.”

The loss of Boone could slow Cutcliffe's efforts to rebuild a program that went to its first bowl game in 18 years last season. Before Cutcliffe arrived in 2008, Duke won 22 games in 13 seasons. Four times in that span, the Blue Devils were winless, most recently in '06.

Cutcliffe, the '12 ACC Coach of the Year, was asked how difficult it is to recruit quality athletes to Duke, which recently was ranked seventh in the nation academically by U.S. News and World Report.

“You don't go in looking at this as a hindrance,” he said. “I think it's one of the more exciting times for me as to what the potential is here to bring in great football players that also happen to be extremely quality, motivated students.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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