clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Duke Drops A Heartbreaker At Pitt

That wasn't much of a heartbreaker compared to what else the city went through on Saturday. All best wishes to Pittsburgh

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NCAA Football: Duke at Pittsburgh
Oct 27, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Duke Blue Devils tight end Noah Gray (87) makes a catch against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the third quarter at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won 54-45. 
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Just one stop.

Just one lousy stop.

I’m sure some variation of that went through the minds of Duke football fans Saturday afternoon.

Alas, the prayers were unanswered, the wishes ungranted.

Pitt won 54-45, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with five seconds left and getting a meaningless safety on the game’s final play.

Duke has been in shoot-outs with Pitt before, losing 58-55 in 2013 and winning 51-48, in overtime, the following year.

This seemed like a last-team-with-the-ball-wins-kind of game and unfortunately for the Blue Devils, that team was Pittsburgh, excluding those final few seconds, of course.

Duke’s offense did leave some points on the field. A Daniel Jones fumble deep in Pitt territory late in the first half was a killer. Duke went for it on 4th-and-7 from the Pitt 24 and came up empty. A 65-yard-drive in the fourth quarter ended with a field goal.

But it’s impossible to blame this loss on an offense that scored 45 points and posted more than 600 yards of total offense.

No, you have to go to the other side of the ball to apportion blame. That may seem harsh but there’s no hiding the fact. The Duke offense kept putting the champagne on ice and the Duke defense kept letting it thaw.

Duke had leads of 14-7, 21-10, 28-17, 35-25, 42-32 and 45-42.

And couldn’t hold any of them. With barely a minute left, Pitt marched 82 yards in seven plays for the winning TD.

Some old bugaboos came back to haunt Duke. Call them “explosives” or “chunk plays” or “somebody-please-tackle-him-plays,” Pitt kept gashing Duke for huge gains. Kenny Pickett was a lowly 8-for-18 passing, but picked up 150 yards on those completions, an average of almost 19 yards per completion.

But it was on the ground, that Duke was overmatched, allowing a ghastly 484 rushing yards, 9.3 yards per carry, five Panthers with over 50 rushing yards.

For the fourth time in the last five games, Duke failed to force a turnover.

Close, a couple of times?

Sure. But it’s pretty binary. One team has control of the ball at the end of the play and Pitt’s offense had control of the ball at the end of every one of their 71 plays.

Duke also notched a single sack, by Ben Frye, a one-yarder that barely slowed down Pitt’s final drive.

Duke wasted some career days on offense. Jones was 27-for-42, for 396 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions. It was his career-high in passing yardage and TD passes. Deon Jackson had career-bests in rushing yards (162) and receiving yards (89), while Johnathan Lloyd had a career-best 136 receiving yards.

Duke’s much-maligned offensive line opened some holes, although pass protection remains a concern.

Still, it’s hard to fathom how a team can pick up 619 yards in total offense, turn it over once, not miss a place kick and still lose.

I will not pretend to know what happens next. Getting healthy would help. David Cutcliffe has mentioned more than once that Duke has lots of walking wounded, that is players who aren’t injured so badly they can’t play but badly enough that their play is compromised.

Football 101, perhaps, but he says this is the worst season he’s ever had for injuries and he’s not the kind of person inclined to make stuff up.

“Next man up” sounds good and it has worked for Duke on several occasions this year. But it only goes so far. Is Duke running out of healthy bodies the same time they’re running out of opportunities to get to six wins?

I still expect another regular-season win or two this season and a bowl bid. But there’s no question that today’s setback is a blow to the lofty pre-season aspirations of Duke football and there’s no question Duke’s battered defense has to figure out ways to keep opposing teams off the scoreboard if those wins are going to come.

If you're going to shop Amazon please start here and help DBR
Check out our October '17 t-shirt! || Drop us a line