Prediction: Pitt, Kessman to pull through against Duke

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Prediction: Pitt, Kessman to pull through against Duke

Sophomore tackle Jaylen Twyman (97) leads the Panthers with six sacks on the season.

Sophomore tackle Jaylen Twyman (97) leads the Panthers with six sacks on the season.

Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Sophomore tackle Jaylen Twyman (97) leads the Panthers with six sacks on the season.

Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Sophomore tackle Jaylen Twyman (97) leads the Panthers with six sacks on the season.

By Elliott Borawski, Staff Writer

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After surviving an upset scare from Delaware last week, Pitt (3-2 overall, 0-1 ACC) will look to get its first ACC win when the team travels to take on Duke (3-1 overall, 1-0 ACC) Saturday night. The Panthers were undisciplined in their last game, picking up 13 total penalties for 115 yards. While this is concerning, it should be viewed as an anomaly rather than a worrisome trend. 

The Panthers had fewer penalties in their previous two games combined than they did against Delaware. And besides their mental miscues, the Panthers have been stellar on the defensive side of the ball all season. They rank 27th out of 130 teams nationally with 301 yards allowed per game. Pitt’s pass rush — despite season-ending injuries to crucial starters Rashad Weaver and Keyshon Camp — has been its greatest strength, ranking second in the country with 24 sacks.

Sophomore tackle Jaylen Twyman has been the main catalyst for Pitt’s revamped defensive line, leading the Panthers with six sacks on the season. Twyman & Co. should be expected to bring the pressure on Duke senior quarterback Quentin Harris as he tries to extend plays with his feet. Harris is Duke’s X factor — he leads the team with 319 rushing yards and 842 passing yards. It will be crucial for the Panthers to collapse the pocket on Harris and make him uncomfortable.

The Panthers faced a prototype for Harris in their first game against Virginia. Like Harris, the Cavaliers’ senior quarterback Bryce Perkins is his team’s leading passer and rusher. Pitt largely stuffed Perkins aside from one 27-yard scramble, holding him to 44 total yards on 18 carries. If Pitt’s offense limits its miscues and controls the field position battle, then the team’s defense can be trusted to likewise limit Harris’ effectiveness.

Defensively, Duke doesn’t bring the same type of pressure as Pitt. The Blue Devils only record 2.5 sacks per game compared to 4.8 for the Panthers. Junior quarterback Kenny Pickett should have sufficient time to get the ball out cleanly. Pitt has shown a tremendous air attack on offense, ranking third in the ACC with 278.4 passing yards per game. Pickett is expected to return after missing last week’s game and should continue his chemistry with redshirt junior wideout Taysir Mack and senior wideout Maurice Ffrench.

For all of the Panthers’ success, they still have several flaws that need cleaned up. If Pitt wants to win in ACC play, the kicking cannot continue to be poor. Junior kicker Alex Kessman must step up his game after going 4-10 on field goals so far. The Panthers can’t afford to leave points on the board in what should be a close game against an evenly matched opponent. As far as injuries are concerned, Pitt might remain without its top two running backs — junior A.J. Davis and first-year Vincent Davis — as both are questionable to play.

This could mean another breakout performance from redshirt sophomore running back Todd Sibley, who gained more than 100 yards against Delaware — but the lack of experience at the running back position is still prevalent. Duke has a more talented running game, averaging 194.3 rushing yards per game compared to 126.0 for Pitt.

Prediction

Pitt: 27, Duke: 24

In the end, Pitt will do just enough to get by Duke. The Blue Devils may have smoked Virginia Tech by 35 points last week, but that speaks more to Virginia Tech’s inadequacy than Duke’s legitimacy. The Panthers won their last four games against the Blue Devils and the streak will not end there.

This will be a big day for Pitt’s offense, which will produce more than 400 yards. The Panthers’ defense will allow for some big plays but pull through in the important red zone moments. It’ll be an exciting, down-to-the-wire affair.

While Pitt has struggled on special teams, Kessman will get back on track this week. After missing a 41-yarder in the UCF game, head coach Pat Narduzzi had encouraging words for him.

“Listen, don’t worry about it. Let it go,” Narduzzi said. “You’re going to kick the game winner.”

Kessman didn’t kick a game-winning field goal, but he at least took the final lead with an extra point. That comment showed the confidence Narduzzi has in his kicker moving forward.

In this week’s game against the Blue Devils, a game-winning kick could be the difference as the Panthers barely survive going into their bye week.

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