The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

September 20, 2013

Panthers ready for first ACC road test

DURHAM, N.C. — Duke wants to give Pitt a warm welcome to life on the road in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Panthers make their first road trip in the ACC today when they visit a Blue Devils team looking to get past a discouraging loss to Georgia Tech.

Duke (2-1, 0-1) squandered much of the momentum of its first 2-0 start since 1998 with its 24-point loss to the Yellow Jackets.

“It wasn’t any individual or any one thing. ... It doesn’t catch up with you until it catches up with you,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “We’re putting a premium on how well we execute on both sides of the ball.”

Neither team can afford to fall to 0-2 in league play and essentially have its Coastal Division chances evaporate just four weeks into the season.

Pitt (1-1, 0-1) bounced back from its lopsided opening loss to No. 8 Florida State by beating New Mexico 49-27. Now comes the Panthers’ first test away from Heinz Field.

“You just embrace it and they have to go play somewhere different,” coach Paul Chryst said. “It’s going to be a new locker room. We have to just jump in.”

Five things to know about Pitt’s first visit to Duke since 1976:

Pitt’s kids: Pitt seems to be going all-in with some of its freshmen. Freshmen scored 37 of its 49 points last week against New Mexico, including two touchdowns apiece from WR Tyler Boyd and RB James Conner. Chryst says it’s his job to put his best players on the field and is happy to have “a group that can help us.”

Connette cannot stress: Brandon Connette is making just his second start as a full-time quarterback and the Blue Devils insist he can’t allow himself to shoulder too much of the burden for the team’s performance. Cutcliffe says the team has not lost confidence in injured starter Anthony Boone’s replacement despite a tough outing against Georgia Tech in which he took responsibility for Duke’s 3-for-14 showing on third downs. Cutcliffe says he will “line up with Brandon Connette anytime because of who he is and how he’s going to respond to adversity ... There’s no suffering in confidence in that regard.”

Georgia who?: Duke is happy to forget all about Georgia Tech and its pesky triple option. The Blue Devils’ defense seems eager to get back to dealing with an opponent that plays a more common style – like Pitt, a classic power-football team with a bulky offensive line and a pair of gifted receivers. Duke defensive end Kenny Anunike says the team is “getting back to just playing real football and just firing off” and adds that this is “how football’s meant to be played.”

Pitt’s WRs: Pitt boasts one of the top receiving tandems in the ACC in Boyd and Devin Street, and that means a test for Duke CB Ross Cockrell and a secondary that last week allowed four touchdown passes to run-first Georgia Tech. Street is 17 catches shy of becoming the school’s career leader while Boyd is the league’s receiver of the week after his six-catch, 134-yard performance against New Mexico. Cockrell says he and Street became friends at the ACC’s preseason media days and calls him “a very polished receiver.”

History lesson: These two schools do have a few ties. They met in the first game at Wallace Wade Stadium on Oct. 5, 1929, prompting Cutcliffe to quip that “they played that game and the stock market crashed.” In between his two stints as Pitt’s coach, Johnny Majors hired Cutcliffe as an assistant at Tennessee. And Duke assistants Kurt and Zac Roper are the sons of former Pitt assistant Bob Roper.

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