Duke vs. Pittsburgh turned out to be what most people predicted, a shootout. Although, most people would not have predicted the eventual 58-55 final score, Pittsburgh prevailed in the end. Early on this game looked like it would be a blowout in Pitt’s favor, which led 27-7 with 14 minutes left in the first half. Duke quarterback Brandon Connette threw more completions to Panther defenders than his own receivers in his first 3 attempts, throwing two costly interceptions that both resulted in scores. Pitt’s Todd Savage made it look easy the whole game, throwing for 424 yards and 6 touchdowns while Tyler Boyd had a huge first half with 3 touchdown receptions and over 100 receiving yards. Jamison Crowder was Duke’s MVP for the game and kept them close in the first half. With the game looking almost out of reach early, Jamison carried the team with a pair of touchdowns, one receiving and one rushing, and just before the half a huge punt return he took to the house to cut the Pittsburgh lead down to 3. Duke’s defense could not get a crucial stop right before the half and Boyd caught his third touchdown reception of the half with just 24 seconds left.
The 2nd half started just like the first, with Pittsburgh’s offense dominating the Duke’s secondary through the ground and air. They scored on their first two possessions of the half and took a commanding 51-28 lead. Duke fought back and scored the next 14 points with a Connette touchdown pass and run. Connette had an outstanding game running the ball, with the majority of the runs right down the throat of the Pittsburgh defense. Duke’s offensive line did a good job of getting a push on the defensive front, with the exception of Aaron Donald, one of the best pass rushers in the country, making Connette’s day difficult at times. After cutting the score to 51-41, Connette threw one of his two fourth quarter interceptions which proved to be most costly. Down 58-41, Duke would not quit. Connette threw a touchdown to wide receiver Braxton Deaver with just under 6 minutes to go and added another rushing touchdown with 3:44 left in the game. That would prove to be the final score of the game, with Duke’s defense not getting the important stop they needed to give the offense one more chance. Facing a 3rd and 7 from the Duke 39 with just under 2 minutes to play, Savage dropped back and found receiver Kevin Weatherspoon for a 15 yard reception that ended Duke’s chances. The theme of the day was poor secondary play, with both teams giving up a combined 747 yards through the air and 7 touchdowns.
The biggest difference in the game had to be Pittsburgh freshman running back James Conner, who had a monster game. Conner is a big, strong back who is hard to tackle and also has a surprising quickness and burst that makes him even more effective. His 173 yards rushing were huge in that not only did he make an impact in the running game but Duke’s safeties and linebackers had to respect the run so play action became very effective. Overall, what Duke can take away is that even after four interceptions and absolutely terrible defensive play, they only lost to a pretty good Pittsburgh team by 3 points. After the game, Duke coach David Cutcliffe said “It’s not an effort problem, it’s an execution problem”. If Duke wants to take a step in the right direction and go to another bowl this season, their overall defense and secondary will need to greatly improve.