Duke Virginia Tech Football

Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis (5) is tackled from behind by Duke defender Josh Blackwell (31) in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP)

It seems unlikely Saturday night’s game between the Pitt and Duke at Wallace Wade Stadium will be a repeat of last season’s matchup where the teams combined for nearly 1,300 yards of offense in a 54-45 Pitt win, especially considering how well the two defenses have played this year. 

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi thinks this is the best defense Duke (3-1, 1-0) has had in recent years.

“I think they're about as good as they've been ever that I've seen a Duke football team on defense,” Narduzzi said this week.

The Blue Devils have held three of their four opponents to 18 points or less, the lone exception being No. 1 Alabama in Week 1. The Alabama game is Duke’s only loss this season. 

Pitt’s defense has also excelled this season. The front seven has been able to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks and the secondary has provided solid coverage. 

The defense will be challenged by another impressive quarterback this weekend in dual-threat Quentin Harris. The Blue Devils haven’t missed a beat since losing Daniel Jones, who was drafted sixth overall by the New York Giants this spring, which isn’t surprising thanks to Duke coach David Cutcliffe’s ability to develop quarterbacks.

Harris has brought a new skill set to the table. He leads Duke in rushing yards in addition to completing 72 percent of his passes, and he’s accounted for 12 touchdowns. 

Pitt’s defense is prepared for all that Duke’s offense does – run-pass option, jet sweeps, and even some triple option, which was made famous by former Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, who recently retired.

“We're going to expect probably 10 to 15 snaps of the spread offense, the Georgia Tech offense,” Narduzzi said. “Each week it seems they add a little bit more to it, so it gets you – you’ve got to go back to your Georgia Tech game planning and find out what you want to do against what they do.

“Their quarterback Harris can run it. He's good at it. They started off in the opener against Alabama. I think they ran 12 snaps in that game and had some success, and the more success they have the more you're going to see it. We've got to nail that down, try to take them out of that and let them get back to their normal offense.”

Since last year’s shootout with Duke in which the Blue Devils put up 619 yards of offense, Pitt’s defense has held opposing offenses to under 450 yards per game. In the 11 games since, Pitt’s defense has allowed more than 400 yards just three times. 

When Narduzzi was asked if the defense was embarrassed by its performance against Duke last season and if that led to the unit tightening up, Narduzzi said it all comes down to being more focused and detailed. The coach recalled a particular sequence from last year’s game. 

“You can just watch two plays, back-to-back, they lined up in a formation and the mike linebacker is sitting right there in the A gap. And on the first time they run the play, they ran fake outside zone that way or fake sweep that way, and the quarterback ran inside zone for 20 yards. The very next play, they come back and run the same exact play and we make it for a yard loss. And it’s the same play, the same defense. It’s called focus and execute, do your job,” Narduzzi said. 

Narduzzi added that sometimes it’s a matter of how well the opponent is playing, but stressed that in conference play, it’s going to come down to how well Pitt (3-2, 0-1) is playing.  

“For the remainder of these ACC games, it’s gonna be what we do,” Narduzzi said. “It’s about what we do on the field Saturday night.”

 

Amanda Filipcic-Godsey is a freelance writer in Pittsburgh. She covers Pitt football and basketball for CNHI Pa. newspapers. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaFGodsey.

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