Duke’s very bad, horrible November continued Saturday afternoon as the Blue Devils were on the wrong end of a palindromic 31-13 beating by the visiting Pittsburgh Panthers.
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Playing without injured starting quarterback Thomas Sirk, Duke played Pitt to a 10-10 tie at intermission.
But the visitors dominated the second half, turning two, long, time-consuming drives into touchdowns that Duke could not answer.
Duke had more than its share of self-inflicted wounds; dropped passes, turnovers, busted routes, horribly ill-timed penalties and a fake-field goal that looked under-rehearsed, to put it politely.
Jeremy Cash summed up the loss. "They won the turnover battle, they won on offense, they won on defense, they won on special teams. You can’t expect to win a game like that."
Sirk warmed up and David Cutcliffe said the decision to sit him was made at the last minute. Parker Boehme said he learned that he would start just moments before kickoff but added that he had taken every snap this week.
Duke fell behind early again as Pitt drove 92 yards in six minutes, the first of four time-consuming touchdown drives that would give them a two-to-one edge in time of possession.
Boehme did some good things in his first collegiate start, none better than a 52-yard pass to Anthony Nash on third and 15 that set Duke up at the Pitt 1. Boehme scored on the next play.
Duke had a chance to build a lead when Boehme scampered 77 yards to the Pittsburgh 7.
But in in a trend that has become all too familiar of late, Duke couldn’t turn yards into points. Three plays picked up six yards and a fake field goal failed when Nico Pierre’s pass was short.
Cutcliffe said Duke has had the play in its hopper for some time. You can write the punch line yourself.
Duke took its only lead with a 27-yard Ross Martin field goal, culminating a 76-yard drive. A Boehme to Nash pass accounted for 36 of those.
But again, no touchdown.
Pitt answered with a 51-yard Chris Blewitt field goal after recovering their own fumble on third down.
Duke had a 283 to 201 edge in total offense and that nagging feeling that they had left some points on the board.
Pitt got the ball to begin the second half and took it 81 yards for the go-ahead score.
Duke appeared to have stopped the drive twice. A hold called on Jeremy Cash negated a third-down sack that would have led to a long field-goal attempt.
Breon Borders intercepted Nate Peterman in the end zone three plays later but was called for pas interference.
Duke forced yet another third down, which Pitt turned into another touchdown.
A visibly disgusted Cash said after the game that Duke simply has to be tough enough to fight through adversity.
After a three-and-out, Pitt put it away, this time going 74 yards in nine plays. The gut-wrencher this time wasn’t a flag but a Tyler Boyd fumble near midfield. Several Blue Devils had a bead on the loose ball but knocked each other off the ball, allowing Pitt to retain possession.
Eight plays later, the Panthers were in the end zone again on Peterman’s third touchdown pass.
Martin cut the lead to 24-13 with a 51-yard field goal of his own. It hit the crossbar and bounced over.
But Pitt added a fourth touchdown, Boehme threw an interception and lost a fumble on a sack, Ryan Smith lost a punt and that was about it.
The stats tell a sad tale. Pitt outgained Duke 247 yards to 78 in the second half, forced three second-half turnovers, sacked Boehme three times and controlled the ball for almost 22 of the second half’s 30 minutes.
Duke didnt’ sack Peterman once and Cutcliffe used the word "stale" to describe his defense.
The defeat can be summed up in the fact that Pitt’s marvelous wide receiver Tyler Boyd rushed for 79 yards on eight carries, mostly end arounds.
Duke’s running backs combined for 35 rushing yards.
Cash said of Boyd’s rushing. "We thought we were prepared for it. People need to read their keys and play fundamental football."
What next? Cash acknowledges "something’s not clicking. I don’t know if people are getting tired or losing their focus. We need to be more intense with everything we do."
Kyler Brown adds "they have some really strong players and we needed to buckle down and we didn’t do a good job on that. But I believe in my team and I believe we’ll finish strong."
What does Cutcliffe have to say about things? "No reason to sugarcoat it. The second half, we didn’t represent any part of who we want to be. We got out-blocked, out-tackled, out-hit. Their playmakers made big plays when they had to, ours didn’t. There are a lot of things we need to address. We have to address personnel, we have to address execution, we have to address our consistency--or lack of. . . . It is always necessary to react to concrete things that must be addressed."
Ross Martin scored seven points and is now third on the ACC’s career scoring list with 397 points. Martin is 19-22 on field goals this season, 30-30 on PATS.
His 51-yarder was is sixth field goal of 50 or more yards, tying him with Sims Lenhardt for the school lead.
Pitsburgh and Duke have played three times since Pitt joined the ACC and the visitng team has won all three times.
Boehme was 23-42, for 248 yards and became the eighth Duke quarterback to complete 20 or more passes in his first start. Cutcliffe hopes that his turnovers will be a learning experience but added that Boehme gave Duke everything he had.
Sirk remains day-to-day.
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