PITT TAKES DUKE ON WILD RIDE
He watched 113 points register on the Wallace Wade Stadium scoreboard.
He witnessed his Duke team and its ACC opponent, Pittsburgh, easily top 1,000 combined yards in total offense.
But Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe also saw his quarterback, Brandon Connettte, sully an otherwise solid day by throwing four interceptions, including one returned for a fourth-quarter touchdown.
So, after seeing Pittsburgh beat the Blue Devils 58-55 in a wild football game on Saturday, Cutcliffe summed up the day in two sentences.
“Nothing much negative happened to them,” he said. “We had to take everything we got.”
Despite that statement, despite Duke falling behind by 20 points in the first half and 23 points in the third quarter, the Blue Devils found themselves down by a field goal after Connette rushed four yards for a touchdown with 3:43 to play.
All Duke (2-2, 0-2 ACC) needed for a chance to pull off a comeback for the ages was one onside kick to bounce its way or one defensive stop.
Alas, neither came.
Pittsburgh (2-1, 1-1 ACC) fell on Duke kicker Ross Martin’s onside kick at the Blue Devils 42. When two Panther running plays netted three yards with 2:09 still on the clock, Duke pass defense needed one incompletion to force a punt.
But Pitt quarterback Tom Savage, as he routinely did throughout the game, located an open receiver and delivered a pinpoint pass.
Kevin Witherspoon caught that 15-yard strike on third-and-7 and Duke, with no timeouts remaining, had no way to get the ball back.
That helplessness was a familiar feeling to Duke’s defenders all day.
Pittsburgh ran up 598 yards of total offense with a balance drushing and passing attack that dominated Duke. Savage completed 23 of 33 passes for 424 yards and six touchdowns and none of his passes were intercepted by Duke.
Wide receivers Tyler Boyd (eight catches, 154 yards, three touchdowns) and Devin Street (six catches, 166 yards, two touchdowns) each caught touchdown passes of 67 yards or more.
Freshman running back James Conner bruised Duke for 173 yards and a touchdown, averaging a healthy 6.7 yards per rush.
“It was definitely frustrating,” Duke redshirt senior defensive end Kenny Anunike said. “It was just pound-it-down-your-throat football.”
Duke’s defense, after allowing Pittsburgh to take a 37-28 halftime lead, saw the Panthers build a 51-28 advantage with 3:18 to play in the third quarter when Savage threw his sixth touchdown pass, a 17-yard strike to Scott Orndorff.
The defenders, though, found an effective pace from there. Pittsburgh punted on its next three offensive possessions and flubbed a punt on another.
“We knew we had to step up and make more plays,” Duke all-ACC cornerback Ross Cockrell said. “We gave up 30-some points in the first half. That’s just not what we’re trying to be all about.”
Connette and wide receiver Jamison Crowder produced enough offense to give Duke a chance to win in the fourth quarter.
Connette led Duke with 101 rushing yards on 15 carries while scoring two touchdowns. He also completed 21 of 32 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns.
Crowder became the first Duke player since Scottie Montgomery, now the team’s wide receivers coach, to score touchdowns on a pass reception, rushing attempt and punt return in the same game.
In the second half, Connette threw touchdown passes of 75 yards to Brandon Braxton and six yards to Braxton Deaver. He also ran for two fourth-quarter scores.
But it was his fourth and final interception, midway through the fourth quarter, which proved to be the mistake that Duke couldn’t overcome.
Looking to throw the ball to a running back over the middle, Connette threw it directly to Pittsburgh’s Anthony Gonzalez, who returned it 37 yards for the Panthers’ final touchdown, putting Pitt up 58-41.
Duke came back, but couldn’t come all the way back as its opponent surpassed the 30-point mark for the eighth consecutive ACC game, dating back to last season.
“We made a lot of mistakes on the back end,” Cockrell said. “I gave up two touchdowns. That was bad.”
The way the Blue Devils fought back from three touchdowns behind, the way they moved the ball on offense and nearly won a game when it appeared they were buried, gave them some hope for the season that remains.
“Regardless of what the scoreboard looked like, we needed to play our kind of offense and that’s what we kept on doing and clawed our way back into the game,” Connette said. “Then the way the game fell back out of our hands, then we clawed our way back in, which was kind of a cycle. We just couldn’t get over the hump of taking the lead.”
Still, the Blue Devils dropped their second consecutive game. And with the four turnovers and porous defense, more answers are certainly needed.
“We have a lot of people who can make plays,” Cutcliffe said. “I’ve told you that time and time again. That’s very obvious from the naked eye when you watch this game. The parts that hurt and the parts that you can’t quite put your finger on is why we struggle in areas of execution that have kind of just crept in. That’s my responsibility.”
|PITTSBURGH 58, DUKE 55|
Pitt—Conner 3 run (kick failed), 9:48.
Pitt—Boyd 27 pass from Savage (Blewitt kick), 4:11.
Duke—McCaffrey 16 pass from Connette (Martin kick), 1:43.
Pitt—Street 67 pass from Savage (Blewitt kick), :29.
Pitt—Boyd 69 pass from Savage (Blewitt kick), 14:33.
Duke—Crowder 62 pass from Connette (Martin kick), 12:24.
Pitt—FG Blewitt 24, 9:25.
Duke—Crowder 7 run (Martin kick), 6:12.
Duke—Crowder 82 punt return (Martin kick), 3:08.
Pitt—Boyd 14 pass from Savage (Blewitt kick), :24.
Pitt—Street 21 pass from Savage (Blewitt kick), 11:06.
Pitt—Orndoff 17 pass from Savage (Blewitt kick), 3:18.
Duke—Braxton 75 pass from Connette (Martin kick), 3:05.
Duke—Connette 1 run (run failed), 13:36.
Pitt—Gonzalez 37 interception return (Blewitt kick), 8:30.
Duke—Deaver 6 pass from Connette (Martin kick), 5:30.
Duke—Connette 4 run (Martin kick), 3:43.
|Time of Possession||36:22||23:38|
RUSHING—Pittsburgh, Conner 26-173, Bennett 12-38, Street 1-1,
Ibrahim 1-0, Savage 2-(minus 14), Team 4-(minus 24). Duke,
Connette 15-101, Snead 14-59, Crowder 2-29, Duncan 5-24.
PASSING—Pittsburgh, Savage 23-33-0-424. Duke, Connette 21-32-4-323,
Monday 1-1-0-(minus 4).
RECEIVING—Pittsburgh, Boyd 8-154, Street 6-166, Weatherspoon 4-58,
Orndoff 1-17, Garner 1-13, Holtz 1-10, Bennett 1-5, Ibrahim 1-1. Duke,
Crowder 7-141, Braxton 5-97, McCaffrey 3-34, Deaver 2-21, Duncan 2-17,
Barnes 1-8, Snead 1-5, Sink 1-(minus 4).