Pitt defeated Duke 28-26 on Saturday afternoon to improve to 7-4 on the season. The Panthers held off a late push from the Blue Devils and came up with a clutch stop on a Duke two-point conversion to preserve the win on Senior Day at Acrisure Stadium.
Pitt has now won three straight games and will conclude the regular season with a trip to play Miami next week.
Here are five takeaways from Pitt’s victory over Duke.
Pitt won the game
I feel like this has been the takeaway in most of Pitt wins this season. Yes, they have found ways to win this year, but they seemingly seek out ways to lose. I think that perfectly encapsulates what transpired on Saturday at Acrisure Stadium. The Pitt special teams allowed a punt to be blocked, mishandled a snap that set Duke up for a score, and they also rougher their punter that kept a drive alive as well. It was a comedy of errors by Pitt throughout the game that even kept Duke around, but it all led to them needing to make a two-point conversion stop to win the game.
I’ll save you the suspense, Pitt got that much needed stop and won the game. Duke tried to run a ‘Philly special’ type play to tie the game, but Pitt snuffed it out almost right away and the play never really had a chance. It was a crucial stop at the most important juncture of the game and Pitt made that play.
That is all well and good, but it has to be a little uneasy of a feeling for Pat Narduzzi and his coaching staff that it even got to that point. The Pitt offense only mustered 8 yards of offense in the fourth quarter and could not get a first down on its final possession to ice the game away and to make matters worse, they botched the punt attempt and Duke got the ball deep in Pitt territory. The Pitt defense got Duke into a 4th and 18 situation, but Blue Devils’ quarterback Riley Leonard hit Jaylen Coleman for a touchdown with :47 seconds left.
Pitt got the two-point conversion stop and recovered the onsides kick attempt and escaped with the win. In the end that’s all that really matters, but some shaky fourth quarter coaching and execution on Pitt’s part really made this a lot harder than it probably had to be.
A tale of two halves for Kedon Slovis
I really thought Kedon Slovis played a nice half of football against Duke on Saturday. His first half line was 8-of-17 for 127 yards and 1 touchdown. Slovis should have had more yards and completions, but some dropped passes did him no favors. Despite all of that, Slovis had one of his more impressive drives of the season to close out the first half and give Pitt the lead.
Pitt drove the ball 71 yards on 10 plays in a well executed two-minute drill by Slovis. He hit Bub means for a 15 yard strike, connected with Konata Mumpfield with an 11 yard pass. Slovis also ran for a first down, something we haven’t seen much of, and connected with Jared Wayne for completions of 24 and 15 yards, the latter of which went for a touchdown.
I say this in all sincerity, it looked good. That possession looked like how it was supposed to be on offense. They played with tempo, spread the ball around, and were efficient.
Then the second half happened. Slovis actually had some rhythm coming out of halftime and marched Pitt into the Duke red zone, but a Gabe Houy penalty backed them up, and Slovis threw an interception on the very next play. It looked as though Slovis was waiting for his receiver to come back to the ball, but Israel Abanikanda kept running.
It was a mix up of routes, those things happen, but his second interception was much worse and hard to excuse. Once again, Pitt had a little drive going with a pair of first downs, but on 3rd and five Slovis scrambled and tried to improvise and hit Karter Johnson, but the Duke player read it the whole way. The offense seemed to completely come off the rails after that as he finished 1-for-5 after the second pick. The play calling was obviously geared towards running the ball and clock, but there seemed to be a lack of confidence in throwing as well.
Kedon Slovis has started 10 games as Pitt’s quarterback through Saturday and he had a successful run at USC prior to this. I think we should probably be past the point of looking for small positives in his performances, but unfortunately that is how it has been this season for the Panthers quarterback. Pitt got another win on Saturday, but did so without much support from QB1.
The defense shines again…mostly
The Pitt defense was not as outwardly dominant as it was the past two weeks against Syracuse and Virginia, but it was that side of the ball that carried the way again for the Panthers. Pitt limited a potent Duke rushing attack to only 63 yards and kept Riley Leonard from beating them with his legs.
After scoring a pair of touchdowns last week, the Pitt defense came up with another defensive score again today. This one proved to be a bit more important as well. With Pitt clinging to a 20-14 lead in the early stages of the fourth quarter, senior defensive tackle David Green jarred a ball loose and safety Brandon Hill pounced on it and took it in for a30-yard touchdown. That sequence gave Pitt a two-touchdown cushion and they needed all of it it after Duke mounted a late comeback attempt.
The Pitt defense also came up with the big play on the two-point conversion attempt to seal the victory as well. They made clutch plays.
The defense did have a few miscues. Duke wide receiver Jordan Moore made countless big plays on the way to a 14-catch 199-yard day. The Pitt defense had a coverage breakdown that led to his 49-yard touchdown when he was all along. The Panthers also had a breakdown on the final touchdown, where they allowed Duke to score on a 4th and 18 attempt with the game on the line.
At this stage of the season, obviously you would like to avoid coverage breakdowns like that, especially in the fourth quarter. But aside from those breakdowns, it was a mostly clean game for this defense. Both of Duke’s first half touchdowns were set up by blunders from the special teams, or otherwise the game may have never been close in the first place.
Pitt held Duke below its season average for total offense, rushing, and scoring. It was a solid showing, and aside from some late breakdowns I think most would take that kind of effort.
Senior Day questions
It is still crazy how the pandemic is still being felt in small ways in college football two years later. The year 2020 was one we would probably all like to forget, but the one thing it did to this sport was give every player that played college football that season an extra year of eligibility.
The extra year has helped certain teams and players, but it has also created a lot of uncertainty for roster management as well. Pitt lists 29 seniors on the official roster as of today, and we can really only be certain that eight of those players are moving on after this season.
Erick Hallett walked for Senior Day, he said after the game he is unsure of his plans for next season. David Green and Jared Wayne did not participate in the pregame festivities, both said they are undecided as well. Nothing is set in stone for next season, and perhaps we will get more clarity on what some of these seniors intend to do during bowl practice next month.
I think there are a lot of interesting debates and decisions ahead for this team that can greatly impact them in 2023. Pitt’s leading passer and receiver can return next year, or they could move on as well. The Panthers could get star defensive players back like Habakkuk Baldonado, Sir’Vicea Dennis, and Erick Hallett, or they could test their futures in the NFL.
There is just a lot of uncertainty today about the status of next season. It never used to really be this way, but the COVID-19 pandemic throwing that extra year to everyone has left things murky. I think Pitt has a lot of work to do to be a good team next year, but a lot of what is potentially facing them next season could be fixed if a guy or two opts to stay an extra season. It worked out well for guys like Damar Hamlin and Kenny Pickett, maybe there is another Pitt player out there waiting for a memorable last ride.
Pitt can finish strong next week
Pitt is 9-1 in the last 10 games it has played in the month of November dating back to the 2020 season. The Panthers are 3-0 in November of 2022 and are riding that current three-game winning streak into Thanksgiving. On the other side of that holiday will be the Miami Hurricanes.
Miami will enter the game with a 5-6 record after being picked by many to win the ACC Coastal this season. If you did not think Miami would win the division this year, then you probably figured Pitt would be the team to do it. This game was meant to be for all the marbles this year but neither team lived up to the hype. One is 7-4, while the other is hoping to become bowl eligible on Saturday.
Maybe those preseason rankings don’t actually mean anything, right?
Pitt has a chance to win next week and produce an 8-4 regular season and given the dreadful month of October, I think that is a solid finish to the year. Ending the regular season with four consecutive wins does not excuse the disappointing campaign overall, but it does help ease things into next season a little better…I think.
Miami is not a great team. They really have not been a great program for a long time either. These aren’t your dad’s Miami Hurricanes. This version of the program has been filled with coaching changes every couple of years, and promises of being ‘back’ only to realize they aren’t ‘back’ almost every time.
Miami is a pretty mediocre team in a mediocre division. They are no different than anyone else in the ACC Coastal division these days but for whatever reason Miami has just owned Pitt.
I mean owned.
Pitt is 11-29-1 all-time against Miami. The Hurricanes have won four straight over Pitt since Kenny Pickett upset them back in 2017. In fact, since Pitt’s win over Miami during it’s 1976 national championship season, the Panthers are 3-22 against Miami. Of course there were great Miami teams mixed in there, but not so much recently.
Pitt’s magical 2021 season that ended 11-3 very easily could have been 12-2 if not for a loss to a 7-5 Miami team. The 2019 Pitt team had its soul crushed a bit in a 16-12 loss to Miami. The Hurricanes have been a thorn in Pitt’s side under Pat Narduzzi. They have a chance to not only win a fourth straight game next week, but they can also exercise some demons against Miami as well.