Pitt Looks to Keep Momentum Going Against Duke

DURHAM, N.C. (Duke Athletics) – Two teams coming off significant victories will clash Saturday when Duke takes on Pittsburgh at Heinz Field.

(Photo courtesy of Pitt Athletics)

The Blue Devils upended No. 15 North Carolina last Thursday night, while the Panthers stunned No. 2 Clemson on Saturday in Death Valley.

“We obviously both beat ranked teams,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said Tuesday. “You come out excited. I saw their game and, rightfully so, their players were thrilled. Our players were, too. It’s got to carry over to the practice field.

“You don’t carry momentum from a Saturday to a Saturday or from a Thursday to a Saturday. You hopefully carry it to Sunday, if that’s when your work week starts. I’ve been around great football teams and every great team understands that.”

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Cutcliffe said he was impressed by his team’s performance Sunday night, its first post-UNC practice.

“It was high energy, it was intense and it was focused,” he said. “You hope we can continue that the rest of the week. Then you do have some momentum.”

Duke will need it against a Pitt team that has proved a tough rival since joining the ACC as a Coastal Division foe in 2013.

The Panthers outscored Duke’s Coastal Division championship squad, 58-55, that season. A year later, at Heinz Field, the Blue Devils outlasted the Panthers, 51-48, in double overtime.

Only last year’s 31-13 Pitt win at Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium was not close.

“Watching them, it’s the same show that you’ve seen over the last few years,” Cutcliffe said. “They are as physical a football team in all three phases as there is in this country. They have a great back – I think the best back in the country.”

That would be James Conner, who missed last season as he battled cancer. Two years ago, the powerful running back rushed for 263 yards in the two overtime loss to Duke. The 2014 ACC Player of the Year has beaten cancer and returned as a major force for the Panthers, rushing for 844 yards and 12 touchdowns in 10 games this season.

“We’re all thankful that he’s back, playing the game he loves so much,” the Duke coach said. “You have to respect the young man – both as an opponent and a person. One man is not going to tackle him consistently. I don’t think you are going to stop him. I think you have to minimize the damage. The best way to minimize the damage is get more than one person to the ball.”

Duke needs to win to keep alive its hopes of extending the school’s four-year bowl streak. The Blue Devils need to win out in their final two games to qualify.

“We’re definitely aware of it,” wide receiver Johnathan Lloyd said. “We just can’t look two games down the road. We just have to focus on the week ahead.”

Linebacker Ben Humphreys said Duke’s bowl chances are simple.

“That’s been our goal all season – now we’ve turned it into a two-game season,” he said.

The Duke-Pitt Series

Duke and Pitt have met three times since the Panthers joined the ACC in 2013.

But the two schools have a long, rich football history that predates the conference expansion three years ago.

Duke and Pitt played 17 times between 1929 and 1976.

That 1929 matchup – a 52-7 Pitt win – was the first game played in new Duke Stadium (the current Wallace Wade Stadium).

In 1937, Pitt edged Duke, 10-0, en route to winning the national title. A year later, Duke’s undefeated, untied and unscored upon team beat Pitt, 7-0, in the snow at Duke Stadium – still probably the most significant win in school history.

Duke beat Pitt, 28-14, in Duke Stadium in 1950 – the first integrated college football game in the state of North Carolina.

And Pitt, on its way to another national title in 1976, beat Duke in a 44-31 shootout in Wade Stadium. The Blue Devils actually kept Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett under control, but were ripped by Pitt QB Matt Cavanaugh.

Overall, Pitt leads the series 11-9.

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