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PREDICTION: Panthers to ride momentum to big win over Duke

Pitt+quarterback+Nathan+Peterman+is+coming+off+a+career-best+performance+in+the+Panthers%27+43-42+win+over+Clemson.+Jeff+Ahearn+%7C+Senior+Staff+Photographer
Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman is coming off a career-best performance in the Panthers' 43-42 win over Clemson. Jeff Ahearn | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman is coming off a career-best performance in the Panthers' 43-42 win over Clemson. Jeff Ahearn | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman is coming off a career-best performance in the Panthers' 43-42 win over Clemson. Jeff Ahearn | Senior Staff Photographer

By Dan Sostek | Senior Staff Writer

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Coming off the biggest win of his head coaching career against Clemson, Pat Narduzzi needs his high-flying Pitt Panthers to refocus.

Pitt, already bowl eligible, is now looking to boost its resumé with another conference victory on Saturday. The young but dangerous Duke Blue Devils will come to Heinz Field for a 3 p.m. kickoff after an improbable upset of their own against No. 17 North Carolina.

During his weekly media appearances, Narduzzi discussed reverberations from the Clemson win, quarterback Nathan Peterman’s success and the challenges Duke is going to present.

Faith and belief

Pitt’s win over Clemson last weekend was the most significant victory the program has earned since moving to the ACC, and the biggest upset it has pulled since defeating No. 2 West Virginia on the road, 13-9, in 2007.

On his weekly ACC teleconference call, Narduzzi said he wants his team to use the confidence earned on that win going forward.

“The first thing is the faith and belief that they can go down there and win and win every week,” Narduzzi said. “That’s the first thing you’d like to bottle. You’d like to bottle the energy and emotion that you play with.”

Narduzzi exhibited that faith and belief in his team after a missed field goal by Chris Blewitt to end the half. Rather than berating his senior kicker, Narduzzi was caught by ESPN’s cameras grabbing Blewitt and kissing him on the cheek to help inspire him.

The trick must have worked, as Blewitt responded by nailing the game-winning field goal.

“That’s what we do on game days is be positive with our kids and coach them,” Narduzzi said. “Not only schematically, but emotionally.”

Pretty Peterman

Since taking the starting quarterback job from incumbent Chad Voytik last season, Pitt signal-caller Nathan Peterman has been a consistent, albeit not very flashy, leader of the Panther offense.

Last Saturday, Peterman broke out for the game of his life, throwing for 308 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. Still, the graduate transfer quarterback thinks he can be better.

“I don’t think it was the best game I’ve played this season … people are really wrapped up in the numbers I think,” Peterman said Monday. “I think there was a lot I could have gotten better at, could have done better, and I’m hoping to get better at those this week.”

Peterman has been incredibly efficient this season, throwing for 2,114 yards, 19 touchdown passes and just four interceptions, but he said he’s still looking to play his best game. He’ll get a chance to do so Saturday against a Duke unit that ranks in the middle of the pack in the ACC in pass defense.

“They say you can’t be perfect, but I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t be striving for perfection,” Peterman said.

Narduzzi hasn’t been surprised by Peterman’s growth this season. He says he thinks the quarterback is talented enough to play professionally.

“He’s a big-time player,” Narduzzi said. “I believe he’ll play in the NFL.”

Jonesing to run

After losing starting quarterback Thomas Sirk to injury before the season even started, it seemed like 2016 would be a lost season for Duke.

But his replacement, redshirt freshman Daniel Jones, hasn’t let the Blue Devils go away quietly. After a 3-6 start, he helped lead them to a 28-27 win last week over the team’s bitter in-state rival, No. 17 North Carolina.

Jones has been solid as a rookie, throwing for 2,277 yards with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

“I think the quarterback is a guy that scares you,” Narduzzi said. “Daniel Jones is a guy that’s a big, tall, redshirt freshman guy that can sling it, and he can also run it.”

While Narduzzi said he expects Jones to take deep shots at Pitt’s corners — who have struggled defending the long ball all season — he is also prepared for the Blue Devils’ quarterback to attack with his legs.

“They didn’t run him early in the season because they were trying to protect him, but with two games to go and trying to get to a bowl, their backs are against the wall,” Narduzzi said. “And I know we’re going to get every quarterback run and everything we got out of him because that’s kind of the way they’ll approach this.”

PREDICTION: Duke is likely the weakest ACC opponent Pitt has squared off against thus far, but the Blue Devils have a knack for keeping games close. And when teams keep games close against the Panthers, they do so by scoring in bunches. Duke has only scored over 30 points twice this season, while Pitt has done so eight times. This is an opportunity for Pitt to secure its first wire-to-wire blowout of the season.

Pitt 40, Duke 23

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PREDICTION: Panthers to ride momentum to big win over Duke