Duke accomplished a lot in its last football game.
It upset a ranked North Carolina team to earn its first ACC victory of the season.
The Blue Devil defense limited a Mitch Trubisky-powered offense when it most counted, giving themselves some much-needed confidence going into its next matchup.
But Pitt, where Duke will travel Saturday, did a little bit more in its last game, upsetting the ACC’s best, Clemson. The Panthers scored 43 points against a the ACC’s top defense, which allows 18.4 points a game. Pitt, which owns the seventh-best rushing defense in the nation, held Clemson to 50 rushing yards.
Duke rushed for 227 yards in its Victory Bell win on Nov. 10, led by junior running back Shaun Wilson’s 107. Quarterback Daniel Jones gained 97 on the ground, and Duke (4-6, 1-5 ACC) could use all the help it can get in that area as it faces Pitt (6-4, 3-3) on the road.
“Anytime you have a quarterback run game, it helps your numbers,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “Pittsburgh is very committed to stopping the run, and they do a great job of it. Sometimes, they have an extra blocker when the quarterback’s running the ball. We’re going to have to pick and choose our opportunities and schematically hope there are the right things in place to be successful.”
Anytime you have a quarterback run game, it helps your numbers. Pittsburgh is very committed to stopping the run, and they do a great job of it.
Jones, a redshirt freshman, has looked more comfortable using his legs these last few weeks. He’s the team’s second-leading rusher behind Wilson with 469 yards. Jones has a team-best seven rushing touchdowns. Wilson and redshirt junior running back Joseph Ajeigbe were a bit banged up after the 24-21 loss to Virginia Tech on Nov. 5 but have since returned. Ajeigbe added 36 rushing yards in the North Carolina win.
Pitt has allowed 105.4 rushing yards a game this season, limiting teams to 3.3 yards a carry. Duke averages 4.1 yards per attempt for 173.9 a game.
“You gotta play a lot of people against a big, physical football team, and so hopefully we don’t have any incidents up there,” Cutcliffe said.
Redshirt senior receiver Anthony Nash (clavicle), redshirt freshman punter Austin Parker (clavicle) and senior corner Breon Borders (hip) will not play Saturday. Redshirt freshman offensive linemen Zach Baker (leg) and redshirt sophomore center Zach Harmon (upper body) are listed as probable.
Borders was replaced last week by true freshman Mark Gilbert, and that will be the case again. Cutcliffe said things won’t change in the secondary with Borders’ absence, as the unit will try to shake up Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman, who threw for five touchdowns and 308 yards (22-of-37) against Clemson.
“Mark Gilbert went the whole way against North Carolina,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s the direction we’re going. You hope you have a game to where you give (Peterman) enough problems. Big thing with their quarterback is you can’t let him have total balance like they like to have. If we could slow down the run, then you have a better chance of defending the pass.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan
Duke at Pitt
When: 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh