Panthers must find a way to solve Duke’s ‘grand’ defense
When Pitt tangles with Duke on Saturday night at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, N.C., an important key to the outcome will be how much Pitt’s offense has grown through the first five games.
Pitt’s rebuilt offensive line and running back groups are no longer inexperienced after confronting three ranked teams — and beating one (Central Florida).
Duke isn’t ranked, but its defense is starting to play that way. The Blue Devils are 42nd in the nation in total defense, giving up an average of 339.8 yards. That includes a soft schedule after allowing 512 yards in a 42-3 loss to Alabama in the opener.
“Coach Borbs said this is probably the best Duke defense he’s seen, and I agree with him,” Pitt center Jimmy Morrissey said. Morrissey was referencing offensive line coach Dave Borbely, who has coached college linemen for the past four decades.
The key to Duke’s defense might its experience. Eight starters have at least 1,000 career snaps, led by safety Dylan Singleton (1,595), who happens to be Pitt running backs coach Andre Powell’s cousin and a player heading toward All-ACC status. It’s a group that includes three defensive linemen, setting up a tough test for Pitt’s offensive line.
“That’s a lot of snaps,” Morrissey said. “We have to make sure we have our assignments right and we just do our job, and we’ll be OK,” he said. “They don’t make many mistakes.”
Morrissey said he can tell immediately if an opponent is inexperienced.
“You can trick him with certain things,” he said. “Experienced D-linemen, I tend to find they don’t exert excess energy when they don’t have to. They’re ready to come back every play. With younger guys, I feel like you can tire them out a little, get them out of the game, maybe get in their heads.”
That won’t be the case with Duke.
Not just a good team
It wasn’t enough for Duke coach David Cutcliffe to praise Pitt. He praised Pitt’s coach and the stability he has developed over the past five years.
“If you ever watch Pat Narduzzi on the sideline, you’ll see a fierce competitor,” Cutcliffe said. “When I’m not playing him, I like to watch him play.”
Cutcliffe, who is 0-4 against Narduzzi, corrected himself when he called Pitt “a good football team.”
“I tell you what. I shouldn’t even say that. It’s a really good football program.
“Pat didn’t come in there to go somewhere else. He went in there to build a program. We’ve come in here to build a program, so I think what you see is strength vs. strength.”
Narduzzi has coached at Pitt for more consecutive seasons (five) than eight of the other 13 ACC coaches have been at theirs. Cutcliffe and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney leads the way with 12.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .