Dec 30, 2021; Atlanta, GA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers head coach Pat Narduzzi on the field prior to the game against the Michigan State Spartans during the 2021 Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

No. 24 Pitt readies for Rhode Island, Pat Narduzzi’s alma mater

No. 24 Pitt concludes its nonconference schedule on Saturday afternoon when it hosts coach Pat Narduzzi’s alma mater in FCS member Rhode Island.

FCS foes traditionally have provided little resistance for the Panthers (2-1), who are 19-1 in such matchups.

Israel Abanikanda finds himself in a tie atop the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing (302 yards) after rolling up 133 in Pitt’s 34-13 romp at Western Michigan last Saturday.

The Panthers revealed their hand early by rushing on 14 of their first 15 offensive plays. The reason to do so likely stemmed from both Abanikanda’s success and Pitt’s decision to start redshirt freshman quarterback Nate Yarnell, who received ACC Rookie of the Week honors following his performance against the Broncos.

“I told (Yarnell) before the game, ‘I got you. No matter what, I got you. You’ve got no reason to be scared,’” Abanikanda told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He showed that he’s tough. I’m proud of him.”

Yarnell completed 9 of 12 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown while playing in place of starter Kedon Slovis (undisclosed) and backup Nick Patti (ankle).

Narduzzi elected to play it safe with Slovis on Saturday despite the latter participating in practice all week prior to the game against Western Michigan.

Slovis, a transfer from USC, hasn’t played since the second half of the Panthers’ 34-27 overtime loss to Tennessee on Sept. 10.

While Narduzzi didn’t reveal his plan for the game against Rhode Island, he did gush about Yarnell during Monday’s press conference.

“Every day we’ll find out,” Narduzzi said. “I know we know a lot more and have a lot more faith from what Nate did on game day. You could see him in practice and you could see him on the scout field, but when you see how a guy operates the game, it definitely gives you an idea that we have another piece to the puzzle — one we may have to use at another point in the season.”

As for Narduzzi himself, Saturday’s game may hold a bit of extra importance. He was a three-year starter at linebacker with Rhode Island from 1987-89, and he graduated from the school in 1990.

The Rams (2-1) followed up road victories over Stony Brook and Bryant by allowing Delaware to score the game’s first 28 points last Saturday. Rhode Island attempted to rally before dropping a 42-21 decision.

“It was a very disappointing outcome to a game that was so highly anticipated,” Rams coach Jim Fleming said, per the Providence Journal. “The work you put in to be able to achieve some respect — all of a sudden it unfolds this way. It’s the worst possible scenario.”

Pennsylvania native Kahtero Summers reeled in a pair of touchdown receptions to boost his total to three over the last two games.

Ed Lee, who scored a touchdown in each of the first two games of the season, leads the team in catches (15) and receiving yards (265).

Kasim Hill has thrown at least two touchdown passes in seven straight games dating back to last season.

–Field Level Media

Jul 21, 2021; Charlotte, NC, USA; Pitt Panthers head coach Pat Narduzzi speaks to the media during the ACC Kickoff at The Westin Charlotte. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt gives Pat Narduzzi contract extension through 2030

On the heels of its first ACC football championship, Pitt gave coach Pat Narduzzi a contract extension through 2030.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but USA Today reported that Narduzzi made $4.8 million last season.

The Panthers reached double-digit wins for the first time in 12 years, going 11-3 in 2021 and defeating Wake Forest in the ACC championship game in December. They lost to Michigan State 31-21 in the Peach Bowl and finished the season ranked No. 13 in the Associated Press poll. Quarterback Kenny Pickett was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, finishing third in voting.

“Our ACC championship season was the result of a strong culture and foundation that Pat Narduzzi has tirelessly built for Pitt football,” Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke said in a statement. “That foundation has our program positioned for sustained success well into the future. Continuity of leadership, especially outstanding leadership like Coach Narduzzi and his staff have provided, has been integral to our program’s rise. We know that we are poised for even more history-making moments in the years to come with Coach Narduzzi on our sideline.”

“Pitt is truly home for my family and me. We are proud to represent this outstanding university and live in this tremendous city,” Narduzzi said in a statement. “I am so appreciative of our players, coaches and staff. Nothing great can be accomplished without their efforts and commitment. I’ve always talked about the importance of pushing together in the same direction. We have that at Pitt across the board.”

Narduzzi is 53-37 in seven seasons at Pitt (36-22 ACC), guiding the team to five bowl appearances and never finishing worse than 5-7.

Before Pitt, he was the defensive coordinator at Miami of Ohio (2003), Cincinnati (2004-06) and Michigan State (2007-14).

–Field Level Media

Dec 26, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Demarcus Robinson (11) runs the ball against Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Joe Schobert (93) during the second half at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers face long odds vs. Chiefs, but neither team feels assured of anything

The Super Bowl defeat suffered by the Kansas City Chiefs last season provides motivation entering the playoffs but remains a setback that can be compartmentalized.

After all, considerable work remains for the two-time reigning AFC champion before booking a Super Bowl appearance in mid-February. The path begins to unravel Sunday when the Chiefs play host to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild-card round at Kansas City, Mo.

“it’s in the back of my mind but for the most part it’s a new year,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said about the NFL’s ultimate prize. “You’ve got to focus on things that have happened this year. We’re on a goal to prove to ourselves who we think we are, and we know we are, and that’s Super Bowl champions.”

The Pittsburgh matchup will be a rematch of a Dec. 26 clash Kansas City dominated 36-10 with Kelce sidelined in COVID-19 protocol. The Chiefs went on to go 12-5 while winning nine of their last 10 games and claiming their sixth consecutive AFC West title.

Kansas City has reached the AFC championship game in each of the four seasons primarily engineered by stalwart QB Patrick Mahomes.

“When you get to that playoff game day, you have a little bit different intensity knowing that every play is critical and it could really end your season by making a mistake,” Mahomes said. “At the same time, you want to be loose, you want to have fun and you want to enjoy it.”

Mahomes passed for 258 yards and three touchdowns in the first meeting with the Steelers. The Chiefs also forced three turnovers and limited Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger to 159 yards passing.

The Chiefs’ defensive intensity that day followed a trend that began after acquiring a longtime Steeler, Melvin Ingram. Ingram proved instrumental a week ago when he crashed into the backfield to generate a bone-jarring strip the Chiefs converted into a late touchdown return in a 28-24 win at Denver.

“He’s the swag champ,” Kelce said, adding that “you saw how much more fun people were having” after Ingram joined the defensive front.

At times, Mahomes has struggled with his accuracy, but he overcame an early-season rash of mistakes to lead the Chiefs to the league’s third-best production, 396.8 yards on average.

He passed for 4,839 yards while counting on Kelce and Tyreek Hill as 1,000-yard receivers. The committee approach to the backfield could continue with Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams coming off injuries.

Second-seeded Kansas City, a two-time Super Bowl champion, will make its seventh consecutive postseason appearance and last faced Pittsburgh in the 2016 playoffs. The Steelers won 18-16. Pittsburgh, a six-time Super Bowl champion, reached the playoffs for the second straight season but last won a postseason game in 2016.

Roethlisberger, whose career could end with the Steelers’ next loss as he considers retiring from football, lamented the long odds his team faces after going 9-7-1 and drawing the No. 7 seed.

“I would assume, as a group, you understand that we probably aren’t supposed to be here,” said Roethlisberger, who is dealing with a strained pectoral and shoulder.

“We probably are not a very good football team. Out of 14 teams I think are in, we’re probably number 14. We’re double-digit underdogs in the playoffs. So, let’s just go play, have fun and see what happens.”

Tongue in cheek? Probably. A dose of realism? Yes, that too.

Still, Pittsburgh got in by defeating Baltimore in the season finale and getting help from Jacksonville beating Indianapolis and Las Vegas beating the Los Angeles Chargers in overtime.

RB Najee Harris (ankle) and CB Arthur Maulet (concussion) were slowed at the beginning of preparations for the Chiefs.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin gained some satisfaction getting to restrict the all-out aggression of Harris, a 1,200-yard rusher as a rookie.

“It’s a good issue and problem to have,” Tomlin said, “when you have a guy that’s wired the way that he’s wired.”

–Field Level Media

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) throws in the third quarter during a Week 12 NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Bengals won, 41-10.

Pittsburgh Steelers At Cincinnati Bengals Nov 28

Report: Ben Roethlisberger expects this to be final season in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has confided in friends, teammates and other people within the organization that he expects this season to be his final one in Pittsburgh, according to a report from ESPN.

Roethlisberger’s public stance has been that he wouldn’t want to play anywhere else, and one source told ESPN that this stance is still the case: his appearance in another NFL city is “highly unlikely.”

That would indicate retirement for the future Hall-of-Famer once the NFL season comes to a conclusion, which is how he and members of the team are approaching the final five games of the season.

Roethlisberger, 39, has played his entire 18-year career in Pittsburgh, and he owns most of the franchise’s passing records, including completions (5,298), yards (62,870) and touchdowns (410).

The six-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl champion has had one of his least productive seasons as a pro in 2021, throwing for 2,522 yards with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions.

The Steelers (5-5-1) are fresh off a 41-10 loss in Cincinnati, and currently on the outside looking in within the AFC playoff picture. They host the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday before finishing this way: at Minnesota, vs. Tennessee, at Kansas City, vs. Cleveland and at Baltimore.

–Field Level Media

Nov 28, 2021; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) celebrates the first down during the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Mixon runs wild as Bengals steamroll Steelers

Proving the first meeting this season wasn’t a fluke, the Cincinnati Bengals walloped the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers 41-10 Sunday afternoon behind a career day by Joe Mixon.

Mixon rushed for a career-high 165 yards and punched in a pair of 1-yard touchdowns as the Bengals (7-4) swept the regular-season series from the Steelers (5-5-1) for the first time since 2009.
Cincinnati has won three straight against their AFC North rivals, their longest streak since winning six in a row from 1988-90.

Joe Burrow completed 20 of 24 for 190 yards with a touchdown and an interception and Tee Higgins hauled in six catches for 114 yards and a TD. Mixon has scored at least one TD in eight straight games for Cincinnati, which scored on its first four possessions and never looked back.

Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger completed 24 of 41 passes for 263 yards and a touchdown, but was also guilty of three turnovers. His two first-half interceptions led to 10 Cincinnati points, and the Bengals added a touchdown off his third-quarter fumble. Roethlisberger was sacked three times.

The Bengals started in rhythm and never faltered. Burrow scored on an 8-yard scramble to cap the game’s first series for a 7-0 lead. Eli Apple returned Roethlisberger’s interception to the 5-yard line, and Evan McPherson added a 31-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead less than nine minutes in.

Pittsburgh got on the board with Chris Boswell’s 40-yard field goal, but the Bengals answered quickly with Burrow finding Higgins for a 32-yard touchdown and a 17-3 lead with 14:15 left in the half.

Mixon’s 1-yard plunge made it 24-3 and gave Cincinnati scores on nine straight offensive possessions dating back to last week. Mike Hilton picked off Roethlisberger in the flat, and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown with just 30 seconds left in the half and a 31-3 lead at the break.

McPherson added a 51-yard field goal in the third quarter, and Mixon scored again from the one with 13:10 remaining to make it 41-3.

Pittsburgh avoided the worst margin of defeat in the series when Roethlisberger hit Pat Freiermuth with a 15-yard touchdown with 2:59 left.

— Field Level Media

Nov 27, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) throws a pass in the second quarter against the Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Dynamic duo lead No. 17 Pitt to win at Syracuse

Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison wrapped up their outstanding regular seasons in style, connecting for two more touchdowns Saturday to lead No. 17 Pittsburgh to a 31-14 road win over Syracuse.

Pickett went 28 of 38 for 209 yards with four touchdowns and an interception, giving the senior signal-caller 40 TDs against seven picks this season. Addison racked up 11 catches for 81 yards and two scores in this one, bringing the sophomore standout to 85 catches for 1,353 yards and 17 touchdowns on the year.

Rodney Hammond Jr. and Gavin Bartholomew also had TD grabs for Pitt (10-2, 7-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), which reached double-digit regular-season wins for the first time since 1981. The Panthers will play Wake Forest in the ACC title game next weekend.

Syracuse (5-7, 2-6) needed a win to reach a bowl game but didn’t muster much offense after jumping out to an early 7-0 lead. Garrett Shrader went 17 of 24 for 217 yards with two touchdowns, both to Courtney Jackson.

Sean Tucker, who set the Orange’s single-season rushing record last week, was held to a season-low 29 yards on 13 carries. It was only the third time all year the freshman was limited to less than 100 yards on the ground.

Shrader’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Jackson gave the hosts an early 7-0 advantage before Pitt tied things up midway through the second quarter as Pickett found Hammond for a 15-yard score. Less than three minutes later, the Panthers went ahead on Pickett’s 25-yard strike to Addison.

Pickett padded the lead with a pair of third-quarter touchdown passes. He hit Bartholomew from 4 yards out to make it 21-7 on the opening drive of the second half, and then he and Addison connected from 5 yards out to create a 28-7 cushion with 4:45 left in the period.

Shrader and Jackson hooked up for a 15-yard touchdown to draw the Orange within 14 points with 2:03 left in the third, but that was as close as they got. A fourth-quarter field goal by Pitt completed the scoring.

–Field Level Media

Nov 20, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) scrambles with the ball against the Virginia Cavaliers during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

No. 17 Pitt, shooting for 10-win season, meets Syracuse

While Pat Narduzzi is focused on the 2021 season, there are two other years the coach of No. 17 Pitt is keeping in mind heading into Saturday’s road game against Syracuse.

The first is 1981. The second is 2018.

Regarding 1981, that was the last time Pitt won 10 games in a regular season. The Panthers sit at 9-2, 6-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, heading into their regular-season finale.

“It’s been a long time,” Narduzzi said. “To me, that means something. In 40 years, there’s something to prove when we go up there this weekend.”

As for 2018, Pitt wrapped up the ACC Coastal Division with one game to play that year — the same scenario the team is in now. The 2018 Panthers ended up losing their regular-season finale to Miami before getting hammered by Clemson in the ACC title game and then falling to Stanford in the Sun Bowl.

Narduzzi did not rest his starters in that game against Miami and doesn’t plan to do it this time around either, even with the ACC championship game awaiting in early December.

“(Whether we’ll rest our starters) would be a natural question: ‘Let’s go up there and keep them all healthy and play our backups and get ready for the championship game,’” Narduzzi said. “I would love to do that, but I don’t see us doing that.”

Pitt has not been held below 27 points in any game this season and enters the weekend averaging 43.9 points — third best in the nation — and 370.1 passing yards, which ranks fifth in Division I FBS.

Quarterback Kenny Pickett and wide receiver Jordan Addison hooked up for 202 yards and four touchdowns in last week’s 48-38 triumph over Virginia. Pickett was announced this week as a finalist for the Maxwell Award, given to the nation’s most outstanding player, while Addison is a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, an honor that goes to the most outstanding receiver.

“This is a doggone good football team that’s going to have an opportunity to play in the title game of the ACC,” Syracuse coach Dino Babers said. “And they definitely deserve it.”

The Orange (5-6, 2-5), meanwhile, need a win to guarantee their first bowl berth since 2018. They have absorbed consecutive losses to Louisville and North Carolina State by a combined 82-20 margin, giving them one last shot to prove the doubters wrong before the regular season concludes.

“I remember when the season started,” Babers said to reporters. “I remember who was on the hot seat. I remember we weren’t supposed to win more than three games. I read all your articles, everybody in here. And then all of a sudden, we decided we weren’t going to be bad, we were going to be good, and everybody changed their expectations.

“Our expectations in here have never changed, and our goal has always been the same.”

One highlight of Syracuse’s season has been the play of running back Sean Tucker, who last week broke the school’s 42-year-old record for rushing yards in a season. The freshman has 1,467 rushing yards, 49 yards shy of Central Michigan’s Lew Nichols for the FBS lead.

Pitt has won 14 of the last 16 matchups, including a 21-10 win last season. Pickett threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score in that victory.

–Field Level Media

Nov 20, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Virginia Cavaliers tight end Jelani Woods (0) is tackled after a catch against Pittsburgh Panthers defensive back Brandon Hill (9) during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

No. 18 Pittsburgh outlasts Virginia to win ACC Coastal

Kenny Pickett threw for 340 yards and four touchdowns, all to Jordan Addison, as No. 18 Pittsburgh clinched the ACC’s Coastal Division with a 48-38 victory over visiting Virginia on Saturday.

The Panthers (9-2, 6-1 ACC), who clinched their second division title in the past four seasons, will play the ACC’s yet-to-be determined Atlantic Division champion in the conference title game on Dec. 4 in Charlotte, N.C.

Pickett went 26-for-41 passing and found seven different receivers, but his favorite was Addison, who set career bests of 14 catches and 202 yards. Vincent Davis rushed for 100 yards on 12 carries as Pitt amassed 509 yards, five fewer than Virginia.

Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong was even better than Pickett. He went 36-for-49 passing for 487 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Pickett threw two interceptions.

Keytaon Thompson had 11 catches for 126 yards and a touchdown, while Dontayvion Wicks had 10 receptions for 133 yards and Jelani Woods caught six passes for 75 yards and a score.

Trailing 24-21 at halftime, Virginia tied the game on Brendan Farrell’s 30-yard field goal just two-plus minutes into the third quarter. But Pitt responded as Pickett threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Addison for a 31-24 lead with 8:32 left in the quarter.

Virginia (6-5, 4-3) tied the game at 31 Thompson’s 8-yard run capped a seven-play, 75-yard drive with 5:06 left in the quarter, but Pitt regained the lead 34-31 on Sam Scarton’s 23-yard field goal with 1:46 left in the quarter.

After Pitt extended its lead to 41-31 on Hammond’s 1-yard run with 9:43 remaining, Armstrong needed just two plays and 25 seconds to find the end zone, following a 36-yard pass to Wicks with a 39-yard touchdown strike to Ra’Shaun Henry to make it 41-38.

After the teams exchanged punts, Pitt put the game away when Pickett threw his fourth touchdown pass to Addison, whose 62-yard grab gave the Panthers a 48-38 lead.

After Armstrong’s three-yard touchdown pass to Thompson gave the Cavaliers a 7-0 lead after the first quarter, Pickett threw two touchdown passes to Addison in a span of 4:55 to give the Panthers a 14-7 lead with 10:01 left in the half.

Virginia tied the score on Hollis’ 2-yard run that capped a six-play, 75-yard drive with 6:52 left in the quarter, but it lasted just 13 seconds because Israel Abanikanda returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a 21-14 lead.

After Pittsburgh pushed the lead to 24-14 on Scarton’s 36-yard field goal with 2:49 left in the half, Armstrong pulled the Cavaliers to within 24-21 at halftime when his 7-yard touchdown pass to Woods capped a nine-play, 75-yard drive with 52 seconds left in quarter.

–Field Level Media

Oct 30, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) passes the ball against the Miami Hurricanes during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

No. 18 Pitt can clinch ACC Coastal by beating Virginia

No. 18 Pittsburgh can clinch the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division on Saturday with a win over visiting Virginia.

The Cavaliers, in turn, can take the division crown and berth in the conference title game by winning their final two regular-season games.

Pitt (8-2, 5-1 ACC) is seeking its second berth in the ACC title game in the past four seasons, while Virginia (6-4, 4-2) must beat the Panthers and rival Virginia Tech (5-5, 3-3) next week to advance to the title game for the second time in three seasons.

No. 10 Wake Forest (9-1, 6-0) would clinch the ACC’s Atlantic Division with a win Saturday at six-time defending conference champion Clemson (7-3, 5-2) on Saturday.

The division winners meet on Dec. 4 in Charlotte, N.C.

Pittsburgh and Virginia have vastly different quarterback situations entering Saturday’s game.

Kenny Pickett has been outstanding this season for Pittsburgh, which has won six of its past seven games. He has completed 67.5 percent of his passes for 3,517 yards with 32 touchdowns against just four interceptions.

The Panthers have four players with more than 300 yards receiving — Jordan Addison (1,070 yards, 11 TDs), Jared Wayne (566 yards, four TDs), Taysir Mack (461 yards, three TDs) and Lucas Krull (339 yards, six TDs).

Virginia, which is on a two-game losing streak, is allowing 239.8 passing yards per game and has given up three touchdown passes in each of the past three games.

Virginia is coming off a 28-3 loss to visiting Notre Dame last week in a game that showed how much it needs Brennan Armstrong under center. Armstrong injured a rib during a 66-49 loss at BYU on Oct. 30.

Armstrong has completed 64.3 percent of his passes for 3,557 yards with 27 touchdowns against eight picks. Virginia averaged just under 40 points per game in his nine starts this season. Dontayvion Wicks (1,004 yards, nine TDS), Keytaon Thompson (773 yards, one TD) and Billy Kemp IV (599 yards six TDs) each has more than 40 receptions this season.

With Armstrong sidelined and freshman Jay Woolfolk making his first start, the Cavaliers were a much different team against Notre Dame, which kept Virginia scoreless until early in the fourth quarter. Woolfolk went just 18-for-33 passing for 196 yards and two interceptions.

“I’m praying that (Armstrong’s health) is more second to second rather than day to day,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall told reporters.

“I thought there were a lot of positive things from the game from how Jay played to how our defense played to how others saw their roles, maybe what they had been with Brennan (Armstrong) and what they would be with Jay, right? That clarity I think was helpful for everyone. It doesn’t mean that the roles can remain the same or possibly even the performance with Brennan versus Jay.”

If Armstrong is out, the Cavaliers will rely more on running back Wayne Taulapapa, who has rushed for 290 yards and two scores on 55 carries. Armstrong is the team’s second-leading rusher, with 271 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns on 81 carries.

Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi is preparing for Armstrong to play.

“Virginia is more of a drop-back team,” he told reporters. “They like to throw it 70 percent of the time, so it’s going to be a drop-back, line up at empty with all these different personnel groupings and chuck it deep, chuck it wherever they want to. That’s what they’ve done, and they like to throw the football.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 16, 2021; Blacksburg, Virginia, USA;  Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) drops to throw a pass during the second half against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Lane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt aims to bounce back against struggling Duke

The goal of appearing in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game is as realistic for Pittsburgh as it was going into last week, but the Panthers’ margin of error has become smaller.

Ahead of a home matchup with Miami last week, Pitt was rolling with a No. 17 ranking and a four-game winning streak. However, the Panthers got humbled in a 38-34 home loss, and now they have to overcome some adversity entering their final four games of the year, starting with a contest against Duke on Saturday in Durham, N.C.

Pitt (6-2, 3-1 ACC) is still in first place in the ACC Coastal division, but instead of a two-game cushion, it’s now just one game.

“It’s a tough one to swallow,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said, “but we’ll bounce back. All of our goals are still in front of us.”

Pitt will head to Duke led by one of the nation’s top quarterbacks, Kenny Pickett, who continued his brilliant play this season even in defeat against the Hurricanes.

Pickett threw for 519 yards and three touchdowns, though he was intercepted twice. He ranks sixth in the country with 2,755 passing yards and is tied for fourth with 26 TD passes.

Odds are good Pickett will rack up even more yards going up against a Duke defense that is giving up 294.5 yards of passing and 33.3 points per game.

After a 3-1 start, the Blue Devils (3-5, 0-4) are reeling, entering on a four-game losing streak.

Duke has done little right in league play, giving up 40.5 points per game and scoring seven or fewer points in three of the four defeats.

In road losses the last two weeks to Virginia and Wake Forest, Duke has been outscored 93-7.

“No one is quitting,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “Nobody is not enthusiastic. I keep hearing that a lot. Our kids are not doing that. When you are fighting, you have to fight with technique, and you have to fight at a higher level from an execution standpoint.”

Pitt is looking to win its sixth straight over Duke in the rivalry. The Panthers have won nine of the past 10 matchups, including the most recent contest, 33-30 at Durham in 2019.

–Field Level Media