Hannah Wilson | Staff Photographer
Pitt traveled to Durham, North Carolina hoping in its game against the Duke Blue Devils to bounce back from an upset loss to Miami last weekend. Although Pitt’s College Football Playoff hopes took a significant hit, head coach Pat Narduzzi said he just wanted his team to focus on the task at hand.
“We’re not worried about playoffs,” Narduzzi said. “We’re worried about the next game. We control our own destiny. We’ve got to play Pitt football.”
And that’s just what they did, with the Panthers (7-2, 4-1 ACC) taking down the Blue Devils (3-6, 0-5 ACC) 54-29. Redshirt senior Kenny Pickett exploded for 416 yards yards and four total touchdowns. Sophomore Jordan Addison helped Pickett’s cause with seven catches for 171 yards and two total touchdowns. Redshirt sophomore interior defensive lineman Calijah Kancey left the game early with an injury and did not return.
Although the score may lead some to think otherwise, the Panthers stumbled out of the gate.
Pitt’s defense looked early on Saturday like it did last week against Miami. The Duke offense moved the ball quickly and efficiently on the defense, utilizing zone runs and passes outside of the numbers.
The Blue Devils moved methodically, deep into Panther territory. Duke knocked on the doorstep inside of the five-yard line, but ultimately couldn’t get out of its own way. Senior running back Mataeo Durant didn’t get a good handle on the handoff attempt and fumbled the ball. Redshirt sophomore safety Brandon Hill scooped up the loose ball and took it back to the Panthers’ own 25-yard line.
Redshirt senior quarterback Kenny Pickett didn’t let this opportunity go to waste. Pickett found sophomore receiver Jordan Addison deep down field for a 37-yard gain to put his team within striking distance. Pickett rolled left just a few plays later and found junior receiver Jared Wayne in the endzone to put Pitt up early.
Duke retaliated with another drive deep into Panther territory, but the drive stalled and the Blue Devils settled for a field goal.
Then, things got dicey for the Panther offense.
On the ensuing drive, the Blue Devils breached the pocket and stripped Pickett to give their offense another crack at the end zone. Once again, the Blue Devil offense made it to the Panther one-yard line but failed to get that last yard. Junior linebacker SirVocea Dennis stuffed a quarterback sneak to force a turnover-on-downs on the Panthers’ own one-yard line.
But another offensive woe wiped out the defense’s big stop. The Blue Devil defense stonewalled junior running back Vincent Davis in his own end zone to force a safety. On top of tacking on two points, the safety proved to be a double edged sword as the Blue Devils received the ball after the play with the Panthers punting.
The Blue Devils found the end zone four plays later to put them up 12-7 early.
It took some time to get going for Pickett, but once he did, he kept the Panthers in the game. Pickett hit Addison on a skinny post route for a 53-yard touchdown to put Pitt in the lead. It seemed the momentum had shifted back to the Panthers.
The Blue Devils thought otherwise.
Sophomore kick returner Jaylen Stinson fielded the kickoff at the Duke 15-yard line and found a lane and took it. With green grass ahead of him, Stinson turned on the burners and took the ball to the house, putting Duke back on top.
The Panthers tacked on a field goal after the return to keep themselves within striking distance. Late in the second half, Pickett led a six-play, 61-yard touchdown drive. He capped off the drive with a 22-yard touchdown run of his own to put the Panthers back in the lead 24-19.
The Panthers tacked on two more field goals before the first half concluded to take a 30-19 lead into the locker room.
Pickett finished the first half with 280 yards through the air on 30 passing attempts and had three total touchdowns. The running backs registered nine attempts in the first half.
Pitt hit the ground running in the second half, embarking on a 2:22, six-play and 75-yard drive. Pickett found first-year tight end Gavin Bartholomew on a screen pass and with blockers in front of him, the first-year took it 29-yards for a touchdown.
Pickett wasn’t done just yet, though. On the next offensive drive, Pitt capped off another methodical drive from Pickett with a two-yard touchdown from Addison. The swing pass was deemed a lateral and officially scored as a rushing touchdown for Addison.
The Panther defense was ready for the Duke offense in the second half, surrendering just 10 points in the second half. Playing from behind forced the Blue Devils to move away from their strength — running the ball. Pitt’s secondary held up, keeping this one out of reach.
Pitt added one more touchdown, with first-year Rodney Hammond plunging in a late game score. This would be the final score of the game, making the final 54-29.
Pitt finished with six sacks — 5.5 from linebackers — and forced two turnovers while surrendering 384 yards. The Panther offense finished with 636 total yards.
The Panthers will have a short turnaround with their next game on Thursday against North Carolina. The game will kickoff at Heinz Field at 7:30 p.m. and air on ESPN.