Panthers pay first ACC visit to Duke
After two years of waiting, the ACC’s future is its present with Pittsburgh and Syracuse are finally competing as league members.
When Pittsburgh visits Duke today (12:30 p.m., WRAL), two teams that are not afraid to use key pieces of their futures will take the field at Wallace Wade Stadium.
The Panthers (1-1, 0-1 ACC) lost their league debut to Florida State 41-13 on Sept. 2 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. After an open week, Pittsburgh routed New Mexico 49-27 a week ago with freshmen Tyler Boyd and James Conner leading the way.
Boyd, a wide receiver, scored two touchdowns, had 195 all-purpose yards and set up the Panthers first touchdown with a 51-yard pass reception from Tom Savage.
Conner, a running back, rushed for 119 yards and two touchdowns against New Mexico.
Duke (2-1, 0-1) has used 12 freshmen this season, including five true freshmen. Three of the true freshmen — cornerbacks Breon Borders and Bryon Fields, along with safety Deondre Singleton — will play roles in trying to slow down Boyd and Conner today.
After watching his freshmen lead a big win on the heels of a lopsided loss, Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst said it didn’t matter if he was playing freshmen or seniors. He was just happy to have “a group that can help us.”
Boyd caught six passes for 134 yards against New Mexico and was named the ACC’s receiver of the week. Duke coach David Cutcliffe said Boyd, teaming with redshirt senior Devin Street, gives Pitt a formidable passing attack.
“That’s as good a combination maybe as there is in the country,” Cutcliffe said of Boyd and Street. “They’re going to prove to be very difficult for not only us but for a lot of people on Pittsburgh’s schedule.”
The 6-4 Street needs only 17 catches to become the school’s all-time receptions leader.
Duke has two redshirt seniors at its starting cornerbacks in All-ACC pick Ross Cockrell and first-year starter Garett Patterson. But Borders and Fields, both of whom only arrived in campus this summer, will be part of the gameplan to slow the Panthers, as well.
Redshirt freshman safety Corbin McCarthy has started Duke’s first three games, but after turning an ankle in practice this week, he is questionable to play today. That means Singleton, who returns after missing last week’s game with an injury, could be in line for more playing time.
Other than those matchups, Duke’s offense seeks to find footing against a Pittsburgh defensive front that Cutcliffe said is impressive.
“Just like you’d think a Pitt team would be — physical,” Cutcliffe said. “Pittsburgh is just good, solid, old-fashioned football in a football area, a football state.”
The Blue Devils will play their second full game without starting quarterback Anthony Boone, who broke his collarbone at Memphis on Sept. 7.
Redshirt junior Brandon Connette, who threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes in relief of Boone in a 28-14 win over Memphis, wasn’t as solid in a 38-14 loss to Georgia Tech a week ago. Connette completed 15 of 28 passes for 122 yards as Duke’s offense sputtered.
“That was one of the more disappointing things, that we didn’t execute around him like we’re capable of,” Cutcliffe said. “But Brandon, he’s such a competitor, he’s such a warrior, and he never hung his head. When the dust settled and you grade him, he didn’t grade all that poorly at all.
“We’ve just got to play better, all of us. My job is to get the people around him to execute, and I think he’ll be fine in that regard.”