Panthers look to rebound against first place Blue Devils

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Panthers look to rebound against first place Blue Devils

By Ryan Bertonaschi / Senior Staff Writer

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The Pitt football team has now lost four of its last five games, and head coach Paul Chryst can’t help but address areas where his team must improve — and must improve soon.

Nonetheless, third-year coach Chryst often points out a few “nice things” that he saw from his team after a bad loss.

One of those “nice things” is the progression of quarterback Chad Voytik, who will have little room for error when Coastal Division leader Duke (6-1, 2-1 ACC) rolls into Heinz Field Saturday to take on Pitt (4-4, 2-2 ACC).

The Blue Devils have won seven of their past eight road games. Led by safety Jeremy Cash, an All-American safety in 2013, Duke’s defense limits opponents to just 15 points per game.

Voytik told reporters Wednesday that he thought he handed in one of his better personal performances of the season on Saturday evening, after Pitt literally and figuratively dropped its week eight game to Georgia Tech. 

The Panthers fumbled seven times.

“Offensively, we can use a lot of the stuff that we accomplished in that game,” Voytik said. “And I think it was a confidence booster for me because I felt good out there. I felt like I could throw the ball and put it where I wanted to. So I enjoyed it when we were holding onto it.”

Voytik completed 75 percent of his passes last week, which, on paper, is his best passing game since Pitt’s season opener.

Voytik added that Duke’s defense is similar to the Panthers’.

In theory, a week for Voytik and company against a scout team defense that ran its in-house schemes should provide Pitt’s offense with the recognition it needs to slow Saturday’s contest down. 

Defensive coordinator Matt House concurred. Still, House said, “On the flip side, they might have as explosive of skill players as we’ve seen all year.”

Jamison Crowder, Duke’s two-time All-ACC wide receiver and 2013 All-American return specialist, is a scary player.

Crowder has caught 40 passes for 471 yards and a pair of touchdowns this season.

“They do a great job finding ways to get him the ball,” House told reporters. “They’ll get him the ball on screens, they’ll throw him the ball downfield on double moves. They’ll run jets with him, they’ll put him in the backfield some and run option with him.

“Mark it down now, he’s going to make somebody miss a tackle on Saturday … You’ve got to get second and third guys running to the ball,” House said.

House added that redshirt cornerback Reggie Mitchell will assume the challenge of guarding Crowder.

“You’ve just got to be patient. He’s real quick off the line,” Mitchell told reporters. “I’m looking forward to the matchup.”

Duke quarterback Anthony Boone is given a lot of time to find Crowder and Duke’s other receivers downfield. This is a testament to the Blue Devils’ offensive line, which is second in the country in sacks allowed (0.57 per game).

After undergoing temporary position changes in an effort to stop Georgia Tech’s triple option, Bam Bradley will return to the Sam linebacker position, and Nicholas Grigsby will return to his Freeze position.

Kickoff is set for noon.

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