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Road warriors: Pitt football wins at Duke

Football Head Coach Pat Narduzzi retracted his

Football Head Coach Pat Narduzzi retracted his "permission slip" that excused students from Thursday night classes for the Virginia Tech game. Heather Tennant | Staff Photographer

Football Head Coach Pat Narduzzi retracted his "permission slip" that excused students from Thursday night classes for the Virginia Tech game. Heather Tennant | Staff Photographer

By Chris Puzia / Assistant Sports Editor

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Trading ties for tackles, Pat Narduzzi calls road football games — which his team have dominated — business trips.

The Panthers, following their last road game of the season Saturday, now sport a 5-1 road record and have created their own Heinz Field atmosphere away from home with consistent, smart play. Narduzzi credits that success to his team’s game mentality.

“It’s hard to get wins on the road,” Narduzzi said. “And our kids have been road warriors. We’re sitting at 5-1 in the conference and seven wins total, and we’re going to try to get two more back home in Pittsburgh.”

With its most recent 31-13 win at Duke on Saturday, Pitt still has only one road loss this season, when No. 5 Iowa downed the Panthers with a 57-yard field goal in the last seconds of the game. Quarterback Nathan Peterman’s stat line from Saturday is evidence enough that Pitt can thrive and play mistake-free away from home.

The redshirt junior completed an efficient 13-23 passing and tied his career high with three touchdowns. More importantly, he did not turn the ball over. He credited that ball control to his offensive line.

“All season, I’ve had time. The O-line does a phenomenal job. To have that kind of time to go through a couple reads is great for our offense,” Peterman said. “I’m really proud of them.”

Pitt’s only turnover came on a fumble late in the game, and the Panthers forced three Duke turnovers — including Pitt freshman safety Jordan Whitehead’s first career interception.

The win kept Pitt in the race for the ACC Coastal, though it will need help from No. 12 North Carolina. The Tar Heels hold a one-game advantage for the division crown on Pitt, so if the Panthers win their final two games, they will need North Carolina to lose both of its final games. That battle for the crown starts on Saturday when Louisville comes to Heinz Field. Considering its recent home stumbles, holding onto the football will be paramount.

Pitt’s two-game losing streak prior to Saturday featured home losses to North Carolina and No. 5 Notre Dame, in which it turned the ball over once in each game.

Peterman said given the previous two disappointing results, it was paramount to come out strong against Duke, especially given the unfriendly environment.

“I think we just were tired of [losing],” Peterman said. “We knew we needed a win, and so to come out here and get that was huge for us.”

Senior center Artie Rowell said keeping steady and staying focused on the game helped his team down in Durham.

“The key to being a leader is to keep everything levelheaded,” Rowell said. “You have to stay calm and keep everyone not too high or not too low.”

Whether it came from having a game plan against the opponents or a dedication to safe, efficient offense, Pitt has focused on the ground game while on the road.

In its last two road games at Duke and at Georgia Tech, the Panthers rushed the ball a combined 101 times, winning both games. Hosting North Carolina and Notre Dame at home, Pitt ran a total of 68 times — but lost each time.

“That was one of our points of emphasis, was to pound the ball,” Peterman said. “We wanted to be a physical team against them.”

Narduzzi said the team’s primary focus on the road is maintaining consistency.

“It’s about being who we are and not changing when you’re on the road,” Narduzzi said. “I mean, when you get down here, our guys are ready to play. So I don’t know if it would have mattered if we were home or away. We just find a way to do what we’re supposed to do.”

He said part of that consistent identity comes from not compromising the team’s game plan based on the game’s location.

“Our guys, we talked about it being a business trip wherever we go,” Narduzzi said. “But I hope [athletic director] Scott Barnes doesn’t get any ideas that we want to play 12 games on the road next year.”

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Road warriors: Pitt football wins at Duke