You know you’ve hit rock bottom when you’ve given up more points in two games than some teams give up in half a season. That’s the situation for Pitt football, where Matt House’s squad has yielded 100 points over the past two weekends (excluding a TD kickoff return) including yesterday’s 51-48 double OT loss to Duke at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
Sloppy tackling, bizarre alignments and inexplicable patterns of getting beat on the same screen plays over and over again, all led to Pitt’s defense surrendering 438 total yards on 266 yards passing and 172 rushing to Duke on less than 20 minutes of total possession.
The main reason Duke only had the ball for less than 20 minutes yesterday was because they needed so little time to score. Pitt rarely forced 3rd downs and when they did, they only forced 3 punts all day. Top that with Duke’s hurry-up offense and voilà, the time of possession was meaningless towards the game’s result.
Perhaps the bright spot has been the Pitt offense. Joe Rudolph’s squad struggled earlier in the season in games against Akron and Iowa, but they’ve had no trouble scoring against Georgia Tech last week and Duke yesterday.
On the Panthers first drive, sophomore tailback James Conner started things off with runs of 12, 7 and later 18 yards. True freshman Pitt tailback Chris James then added a 7 yard run that set-up a mid-range field goal attempt at the Duke 30 yard line. But on 4th down, Pitt punter Ryan Winslow couldn’t handle yet another errant snap and the Panthers walked away with no points.
Special teams have really been a mess during Paul Chryst’s 3 year tenure at Pitt and yesterday was no exception.
The Duke offense then took the field and that’s where 5th senior QB Antony Boone had an easy day picking apart the Panthers defense. First, he found David Reeves for 5 yards and then mixed in two runs of 9 and 1 yard from tailback Shaun Wilson. He finished off the Duke scoring drive by tossing an easy 39 yard TD pass to all-ACC senior WR Jamison Crowder. Crowder was in man-to-man coverage with true freshman CB Avonte Maddox and had a field day on the match-up. Duke led 7-0.
After superstar sophomore Pitt WR Tyler Boyd returned the resulting kickoff 16 yards to the Pitt 18, Conner went back to work grinding the Blue Devils defense on the ground. He pounded the ball with runs of 14, 4, 9, 2, 9, and 14 yards. James aided the drive with a 7 yard run, while redshirt sophomore Pitt QB Chad Voytik connected with Boyd on a 16 yard passing play and also added a 7 yard run of his own. The series ended when Conner bullrushed into the endzone from a yard out to tie the score 7-7.
Conner would finish the day with an amazing 38 carries for 263 yards and 3 TDs. This raised his season total to 220 carries for 1342 rushing yards (average 6.1 yards per carry) and 17 TDs after 9 games. The all-time ACC conference TD rushing record for one season is 22 and is within reach.
Nonetheless, the Blue Devils once again went on offense and had no problems re-taking the lead. Boone found Crowder for 5 yards and received a little help from Pitt CB Lafayette Pitts, who was called for a 15 yard personal foul penalty. Boone then connected with freshman tailback Shaun Wilson on consecutive 16 and 7 yard passing plays, before Wilson took a handoff 9 yards to the Pitt 14 yard line. A couple of plays later, Wilson caught a wide-open screen pass for 10 yards and waltzed into the endzone untouched. Duke led 14-7.
On the ensuing kickoff, Boyd dazzled once again and broke off a 64 yard return to the Duke 32 yard line. He would finish the day with 7 catches for 140 yards. He now has 52 grabs for 791 total receiving yards and 5 TDs on the season. With 3 games left, he should once again eclipse 1000 receiving yards for the year.
Voytik then stole the spotlight by first finding senior WR Manasseh Garner for a 19 yard passing play to the Duke 13 yard line. Then, as the 2nd Quarter began, he scampered 13 yards on a QB draw play to tie the score 14-14.
Voytik had a solid day at the office, completing 16 of 24 passes for 236 yards passing and 2 TDs.
After the Pitt defense forced its first of only 3 punts on the afternoon, Voytik went back to his favorite target Boyd, who made an almost superhuman 48 yard catch to the Duke 11 yard line. Conner would tack on another 6 yard run before Voytik found junior TE JP Holtz on a tough 3rd down 11 yard TD pass in which Holtz kept his balance and stumbled into the endzone. Pitt led 21-14.
The Pitt defense would surrender the lead almost immediately thereafter. After redhsirt sophomore Duke defensive back and kickoff return specialist Devon Edwards returned the ensuing kickoff 21 yards, Boone eventually reconnected with Crowder for another easy 45 yard touchdown pass over Pitt’s CB Maddox. 5 plays in 2:08 was all the was needed for Duke to tie the score at 21.
Boone finished the day with 266 yards passing on 23 of 31 completions and 3 TDs. Crowder meanwhile had 9 catches for 165 yards and 2 TDs.
Pitt wasn’t done in the first half, however.
Voytik completed a 7 yard passing play to sophomore Pitt TE Scott Orndoff as well as true freshman WR Adonis Jennings for the same yardage a couple of plays later. After Conner and James continued to pound the Blue Devils defense on the ground, Voytik got in the act himself with a 10 yard running play. Voytik then reconnected with Boyd for 29 and 13 yard passing plays respectively that left Pitt at the Duke 3 yard line. Two plays later, Voytik finished the scoring drive on perhaps the prettiest play of the day via a QB bootleg TD toss to a wide-open Holtz. Pitt led 28-21.
With just over a minute left in the half, Pitt thought it could hold the lead. But in just 10 plays that only took 1:17 off the clock, Duke would tie the score. Boone connected with Crowder for 11 yards and then found junior RB Shaquille Powell for a wide-open 14 yards and later 12 yards to the Pitt 28 yard line. Boone then tossed a 27 yard pass to Crowder on a pretty flag route that probably should have been ruled a TD inside the Pitt 1 yard line. A play later, the game’s hero and back-up redshirt Duke sophomore QB Thomas Sirk took a direct snap into the endzone to tie the score as time expired in the half at 28.
The 3rd quarter saw the scoring spree come to a halt as both defenses adjusted at half. The Blue Devils tacked on a 23 yard field goal from Ross Martin at the 4:24 mark and Duke led 31-28 going into the 4th Quarter.
After Pitt kicker Chris Blewitt tied the score at 31 early in the final frame, Duke’s Edwards took the ensuing kickoff 99 yards untouched to put the Blue Devils back on top 38-31. Pitt’s special teams once again contributed to another Panther loss.
Conner did manage to exact some revenge on the next series that lasted 15 plays for 81 yards and consumed 7:49 off the clock when he scored from a yard out to tie the score at 38 at the 5:18 mark.
After the Pitt defense forced its final Duke punt on the day, Voytik put the Panthers in position to win the game. He led Pitt down the field and eventually connected with seldom used redshirt-sophomore and Syracuse transfer WR Dontez Ford on an amazing 26 yard 3rd down passing play that placed the Panthers down to the Duke 22 yard line.
Voytik then rushed 11 and 3 yards down to the Duke 8 yard line and the game came down to an easy 26 yard chip-shot field goal by Blewitt. Unfortunately, the kick wasn’t even close as the ball was placed at the right hash due to Voytik’s run on the previous play. Chryst failed to have Voytik center the ball with a Pitt timeout left.
After Boone rushed 7 and eventually 12 yards in OT to put Duke up 45-38, Conner busted 3 runs of his own of 9, 2 and 14 yards to tie the score at 45 in the first extra frame.
Blewitt countered with a 43 yard field goal in the 2nd OT to put Pitt ahead 48-45 but the Pitt defense finally wilted one last time as Duke’s Powell ran for 12 and 7 yards consecutively. Boone spotted Duke a yard closer to set up the game-winning burst by Sirk from 5 yards out to seal the 51-48 Blue Devils victory.
Duke now sits atop the ACC Coastal division at 7-1 (3-1 in the ACC) while Pitt dropped to 4-5 overall (2-3 in the ACC). The Panthers have the bye next weekend.
Pitt’s bowl chances look bleak as they now must win two of out their final 3 games, especially against the high-powered offenses of North Carolina and Miami, just to become bowl-eligible.
Next Up: Sat 11/15 at North Carolina, 12:30pm EST ESPN3