This Saturday will see the Pitt football team head down Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, North Carolina to take on the Duke Blue Devils for just their second conference game since joining the ACC. Pitt’s offense really caught fire against New Mexico last week, and it looked like, that at least for the time being, any confidence issues that may have still been lingering after their week one drubbing at the hands of Florida State had been done away with.
The vast majority of people seem to think that this should be a relatively easy win for the Panthers, and I would tend to agree. However, just because Duke is not traditionally known as a football powerhouse doesn’t mean that they couldn’t at least put up a fight. There are definitely questions going into to Saturday that can’t, or at least shouldn’t, be ignored.
1. Quarterbacks- As always, the play of both starting quarterbacks will be integral to the success of their respective teams. For Pitt quarterback Tom Savage, consistency will be a big issue.
After being outshone in his first game as a Panther, Savage struggled early in his nest game against New Mexico, throwing an interception on his first pass of the game. However, Savage was able to regain his composure and finish the game strong, tossing for 236 yards and two TDs.
There’s no doubt that he has the potential to make some big time throws, but his decision has been suspect at times. If he can keep his cool in the pocket and make smarter decisions before he throws across the middle, they should be good.
On the other side of the ball, shutting down Duke QB Brandon Connette will be huge in limiting the Duke offense. While he is still relatively green, Connette is a big, mobile quarterback who can make plays with his feet as well as his arm. We all know how Pitt struggled shutting down a mobile quarterback against Florida State, and while I’m not saying that Connette is Jameis Winston, the potential for Pitt’s D to get torched is still there.
2. Defense/Special Teams- Pitt’s defense looked dominant last week, limiting the New Mexico offense to just five total rushing yards in the first half. A secondary and linebacking corps that was nonexistent against FSU showed up last week big time, stopping a fake punt and coming up with two scans late in the game to prevent any possible New Mexico comeback.
Winning the turnover battle will also be key for the Panthers, who only forced one fumble as opposed to the two and two interceptions forced by New Mexico. One of these fumbles came after Pitt punt returner Lafayette Pitts bobbled and dropped the ball, which was quickly recovered by UNM. Tighter defense and special teams could very well prove to be the final deciding factor that tips the scale in the winning teams favor.
3. Tyler Boyd- The X factor for the entire Panthers offense, Boyd was a lone bright spot in week one against Florida Sate. However it wasn’t until last week that he truly had his coming out party.
Boyd, a four-time state champion wideout from Clariton High School, made some Larry Fitzgerald-like catches last week. A legitimate deep threat, Boyd has eight catches for 16o yards and a touchdown so far this season. The emergence of Boyd also takes some of the heat off of senior receiver Devin Street, who was often double teamed last year and is the Panthers’ other serious threat downfield.