Pitt runs play-action to perfection against Duke

lkeeley@newsobserver.comSeptember 21, 2013 

  • Observations

    A reporter made the comment that a few Duke players had mentioned they didn’t have the proper amount of energy and intensity to start the game. Cutcliffe shot down that notion.

    “That would be news to me,” he said. “I don’t know who said it, but they’re really not telling the truth. That team was about as cranked up as you can get. So, that’s just a player saying something. There’s no validity to that.”

    Thanks to Pitt’s offensive personnel, the Panthers don’t have to take many risks on that side of the ball. The Panthers have the luxury of throwing to long, athletic receivers in Street and Boyd (and quarterback Tom Savage has a big arm), and their running backs, Isaac Bennett and James Conner, protect the ball against potential fumbles.

    “They’ve got good football players in the right places,” Cutcliffe said.

— Back when Duke coach David Cutcliffe was coaching in the SEC, with SEC-sized players, he would run an offense similar to the one Pittsburgh used to shred Duke’s defense for 598 yards, he said. The Panthers ran the ball effectively to set up big passing plays, an age-old strategy that worked all day.

Due to the Panthers’ success on the ground, Duke safeties were cheating up and letting receivers get behind them. That happened on consecutive plays to safety Dwayne Norman, who was beaten on a 67-yard touchdown pass to Devin Street and a 69-yard toss to Tyler Boyd.

“Young men are fighters and competitors, and if they come out being successful running the ball on you, everyone wants to stop the run,” Cutcliffe said. “There are people that are pass-first, and there are people that are run-first, and you can’t cross over in that circumstance.

“When you’re in a deep zone, you’re trying to keep it all in front of you. You get mesmerized if you’re not careful at safety. I don’t have to see the tape to know you get mesmerized at safety with the play-fake. They’re big, they put that ball in there, and by the time you think it’s past, it is past. Well that’s too late with a guy that runs as well as their guys do.

Young guns: Pittsburgh’s offense should be tough to contain for at least the next three years.

Freshmen Tyler Boyd and James Conner entered the game leading the Panthers in all-purpose yards and rushing, respectively, and both showed why on Saturday.

Boyd caught eight passes for 154 yards and three touchdowns, his second straight game topping the century mark. He’s the first Pitt freshman to tally back-to-back 100-yard receiving games since Antonio Bryant in 1999, equaling a feat not even Larry Fitzgerald accomplished. His three touchdowns equaled a mark Fitzgerald set Nov. 2, 2002 at Virginia Tech.

Conner, who stands 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, ran 26 times for 173 yards (an average of 6.7 yards per carry) and a touchdown. It was his second straight game with at least 100 rushing yards.

The Panthers’ 58 points were the most since they beat Eastern Michigan 66-30 on Sept. 9, 1995. The 113 combined points scored by Pitt and Duke set a new school record.

Injury report: Duke linebacker Kelby Brown suffered an ankle injury, Cutcliffe said. He didn’t know how severe it was immediately after the game. Norman also left the game with a hamstring injury in the second quarter (after getting beat on a 40-yard run play from Conner) and did not return. That injury could be serious, Cutcliffe said, as Norman was fighting hamstring issues in practice this week.

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