Pitt ready to dance with the Blue Devils


Artie Rowell says Pitt must get over last Saturday's loss to Notre Dame. Jeff Ahearn| Assistant Visual Editor

By Jeremy Tepper / Senior Staff Writer

Artie Rowell has to admit it; losing two straight games elicits some dejection

“You try not to get down, but when you invest a lot into something — your time, your energy — it’s hard not to take it rough,” Rowell said.

Rowell and his teammates can’t mope too long, though, as an important conference game looms. Pitt (6-3, 4-1 ACC) will have an opportunity to get back on track this week when it travels to Durham, North Carolina, to face Duke (6-3, 3-2 ACC) at noon Saturday.

Head coach Pat Narduzzi recognizes that his team must up its play this week from its past two losses.

“Our kids have to play a lot better than we played last week to go on the road and beat Duke,” Narduzzi said.

To that end, Rowell said his team won’t suffer from its setbacks. For its loss last week against Notre Dame, Rowell called it a “pride game,” explaining that it doesn’t have any bearing in the team’s hunt for the ACC title. And, still, through that loss and the North Carolina loss the previous week, Rowell said the team grew.

“Any loss is only detrimental if you don’t learn from that experience,” Rowell said.

In Duke, Pitt is playing an opponent that is also trying to snap a losing streak, having lost to Miami and North Carolina consecutively.

A top 10-ranked defense at the start of the year, the Blue Devils’ unit has been on a skid lately, surrendering 139 points the past three weeks. The defense now ranks 30th in yards allowed per game.

Leading that defense is safety Jeremy Cash and linebacker Dwayne Norman, who are tied for 41st in the country with 79 tackles each. Cash, in particular, has stood out accumulating 16.5 tackles for loss and is a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik award, which recognizes the nation’s top defensive player.

Pitt will try to stand ground with an offense that has yet to find its stride this year. Showing flashes in various games, the offense still has yet to consistently finish drives.

“It’s been the same story the past two games,” Rowell said. “We drive the ball, we hold the ball and we’re winning that time of possession in the first half, but then we’re not scoring points. That has to change.”

Pitt hopes the recent addition of safety Jordan Whitehead to the offense will help spark the unit. Functioning in a few packages as a running back against Notre Dame, Whitehead ran for two touchdowns. The freshman’s efforts impressed running backs coach Andre Powell.

“He’s a talented kid. You can’t coach speed,” Powell said.

On the other side of the ball, Duke’s offense ranks 41st in the country with 433 yards a game. Led by its running attack, Duke has four rushers with at least 200 yards. Its quarterback, Thomas Sirk, leads the team in rushing with 555 yards, while running back Shaquille Powell is second with 449.

“Duke’s got a great running game,” Narduzzi said. “Up front, they’re physical, they play with good technique and leverage. They’re well coached.”

The biggest challenge Duke’s offense presents, though, is the speed at which it operates. Though Narduzzi said North Carolina played quite fast on offense, Duke plays even faster.

“Duke has shown some pretty rapid snaps. Once the play is over, [they’re] snapping that ball somewhere between eight and 12 seconds,” Narduzzi said.

Similar to Duke, Pitt’s defense strengths slid as the season went on. Linebackers coach Rob Harley said the defense is anxious to get back to its early period of dominance..

“We should have a chip on our shoulder as a defense because we felt like we haven’t done our job to the best of our ability the last couple weeks,” Harley said.

In order to get on track and to stop Duke’s speedy offense, Pitt will need to get back to basics. In this case, the basics come in the form of executing in its standard playcalls.

“When all heck’s breaking loose, they should find comfort in us calling base defense,” Harley said.

With Duke’s pace, Harley said the Blue Devils are  going to get their opponent on their heels, which makes executing base defense — the defensive scheme Pitt is most familiar with — so important.

In that fast pace, Harley has learned Duke too has some plays it relies on to operate efficiently at that speed.

“They’ve got their favorite plays. They’re gonna run their plays and they’re gonna run them hard,” Harley said.

Still, in speaking for the defense, Harley said the team is anxious to step on the field again, despite the challenges that Duke might present.

“They’re locked in. We want to get back to form as a defense,” Harley said.

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