In wild game that featured surprises from both teams, the one thing that’s certain in the Duke-Pittsburgh football series made a huge difference.
Since entering the ACC for the 2013 season, the Panthers have consistently run the ball not just well, but with incredible success against the Blue Devils.
On the way to winning 54-45 on a rainy, cold Saturday at Heinz Field, the Panthers gashed Duke for 481 rushing yards.
“It’s not a good feeling,”Duke safety Dylan Singleton said. “I think we’re good enough to get a lot of stops. We just made a lot of mental mistakes.”
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This is a Duke defense that entered the day having allowed 353.7 TOTAL yards per game fourth-best in the ACC. Pittsburgh easily topped that with its rushing attack alone and amassed 634 total yards.
Duke and Pitt have played six games as ACC rivals. The Panthers have topped the 300-yard mark in rushing in three of those games. They had 268 in another and 224 in yet another game.
No wonder the Panthers have won five of the six meetings. Averaging 307.3 rushing yards per game against the Blue Devils is a good way to make winning easier.
“We knew what they were going to do,” Singleton said. “We had a great plan for it. They were just able to execute better than us.”
Pittsburgh running back Qadree Ollison led the Panthers with 149 yards, averaging 8.3 yards per carry. He entered the day fourth in the ACC with 646 yards so that was to be expected.
What wasn’t expected was the 137 yards rushing that V’Lique Carter gained. Not only was Saturday was the freshman’s collegiate debut, he was recruited as a cornerback who switched to scout team running back earlier this season.
Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi is obviously keeping Carter on offense now.
“What do you think? We’ll go recruit another DB,” Narduzzi said. “You got to score points to win nowadays. That’s the name of the game. That guy is explosive.”
Carter gained all those yards against Duke on just seven carries, averaging a whopping 19.6 yards per carry by using his speed to get around the edge of Duke’s defense and run to daylight.
“I didn’t think that we were always in good position defensively,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “We made some mistakes. We certainly did not tackle well defensively.”
Duke played without senior linebacker Ben Humphreys, who suffered a knee injury against Virginia last week. Humphreys was in uniform and went through pre-game warm-ups but he wasn’t healthy enough to play.
Xander Gagnon started in place of Humphreys but Brandon Hill replaced him as the game progressed.
Here are the other observations from a high-scoring game:
Duke’s offense answered the challenge
The Blue Devils were shut out in the first half of a 28-14 home loss to Virginia one week earlier. That caused the coaching staff to have some pointed words with the guys on offense, who responded with their best offensive game of the season.
“I’m not going to tell you that they weren’t challenged,” Cutcliffe said. “I think they accepted that challenge. I think our coaches will continue to try to find the right buttons to get the right people going.”
Duke quarterback Daniel Jones completed 27 of 42 passes for 396 yards as the Blue Devils reached Pittsburgh territory on their first eight drives, scoring six touchdowns. Jones threw four touchdown passes.
The Blue Devils amassed 619 yards, far and away their most against an FBS team this season. Duke had 628 yards in beating N.C. Central of the FCS level 55-13. Duke’s previous high against an FBS team was 399 in a 41-27 win at Baylor.
Duke thrived by using empty backfield sets and having Jones unload the ball quickly to help the struggling offensive line.
But the line did have a much better day as evidenced by Duke’s 223 rushing yards.
“We had a really good plan going in,” Jones said. “When we got in our 1-back formations that worked well too.”
Jones committed the game’s only turnover and it was costly, With Duke leading 21-17 late in the first half, the Blue Devils drove to the Pitt 11. But Jones fumbled the ball while maneuvering to pass it and the Blue Devils came up empty.
“A costly mistake,” Jones said. “I’ve just got to take better care of the ball with an opportunity to get points going into the half. Just a bad mistake on my part.”
What a day for Deon Jackson
The loss hung heavy on the Blue Devils but sophomore running back Deon Jackson still had a day that shouldn’t be forgotten.
Jackson set a Duke single-game record with 403 total yards. He rushed for 162 yards, had 89 receiving yards and also gained 152 yards on kick returns.
“What a terrific day,” Cutcliffe said. “I know he’s fatigued. His tired. We worried about him during the game. That’s challenging, that day’s work that he put in there.”
Jackson has been Duke’s main running back for the last three games since redshirt sophomore Brittain Brown has been slowed by an ankle injury. After missing the last two games, Brown had two carries for 10 yards against Pittsburgh but remains far from healthy.
Jackson is just the third player to top the 400-yard mark in an ACC game. The others were Clemson’s Tobias Palmer, who had a league-record 496 yards against N.C. State in 2012, and Wake Forest’s John Leach, who had 411 yards against Maryland in 1993.
“Coming into today I didn’t think any of the results I showed on the field were a surprise,” Jackson said. “I just had to play my game and execute the game plan. We should be confident out there. That’s the main think I focus on is to be confident. I didn’t really think about the yards. It still kind of stings from the loss.”