Pitt coach Paul Chryst was asked if he had any specific words of advice for the number of Panthers who will be facing the challenge of their first collegiate road game today at Duke.
Chryst's response: "Good luck."
The Panthers have played 12 freshmen and seven redshirt freshmen this season. All 19 of them -- plus transfers such as quarterback Tom Savage, tight end Manasseh Garner and defensive end David Durham -- will play their first road game in a Pitt uniform at 12:30 p.m. today when the Panthers take on Duke.
"It's our first road trip, we've got to deal with that," Chryst said Thursday. "We're looking forward to it. There's something about going on the road with the team. Obviously some people's families travel, but for the most part it's just you and your team together. I'm looking forward to that phase of our team growing."
Pitt (1-1, 0-1 ACC) vs. Duke (2-1, 0-1), 12:30 p.m. today, Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, N.C. Panthers favored by 4.
- TV, Radio:
WTAE, KDKA-FM (93.7).
Defeated New Mexico, 49-27, a week ago. ... First road game of the season. ... Is 9-8 all time against the Blue Devils, with most recent meeting in 1976, a 44-31 Pitt victory. ... Freshmen accounted for 37 of Pitt's 49 points in a victory against the Lobos. ... Freshman WR Tyler Boyd leads the Panthers with 346 all-purpose yards. ... WR Devin Street is just 17 receptions shy of becoming Pitt's all-time leading pass catcher. He has 11 catches for 221 yards this season.
Lost to Georgia Tech, 38-14, a week ago. ... QB Brandon Connette made his first start of the season against the Yellow Jackets, replacing Anthony Boone, who broke his collarbone in Duke's second game. ... LB Kelby Brown leads the ACC with 10.3 tackles per game. ... Connette has 19 career rushing touchdowns, third most by a quarterback in school history. ... Appeared in bowl game in 2012 for the first time since 1994. ... Allowing 125.3 passing yards per game, fourth best in Division I-A.
- Hidden stat:
Duke leads the ACC and ranks ninth in Division I-A with a 42.5 yards-per-punt average. Pitt averages 2.0 yards per return, 111th in Division I-A.
One of the talking points coaches often harp on about playing well on the road is playing mistake-free football. Duke's Wallace Wade Stadium isn't known as one of the more intimidating venues in college football, but those old rules still apply.
Especially for Pitt, which has a minus-5 turnover margin through two games this season.
"A lot of stats you can tweak and make arguments, but that one kind of stands the test of time," Chryst said. "How you do in the turnover ratio obviously has a direct impact. We're not doing a great job of protecting the ball and we're not getting takeaways. I think it just makes it a lot harder to win when you're [not] doing those things."
Savage threw two interceptions against Florida State in the first game that deflated chances for Pitt to keep it close early, and had another two against New Mexico a week ago (one on the first play of the game).
While he's admittedly still working his way back into a rhythm after missing two years due to transfers, Savage has a high ceiling, according to Chryst.
"A lot of times with a fifth-year senior, maybe their room for growth isn't as much," Chryst said. "But I think Tommy will continue to grow throughout the season just because he hadn't played for a while, so I think getting back into it."
The other two turnovers this season came on a James Conner fumble and a muffed punt, both against New Mexico. Their only takeaway of the season was a Terrish Webb fumble recovery against the Lobos.
Safety Jason Hendricks led the Big East Conference with six interceptions in 2012, but the Panthers have none so far this season.
On the other sideline, the Blue Devils have a plus-1 turnover margin coming into the game. Despite making his first start of the season a week ago in place of injured starter Anthony Boone, Duke quarterback Brandon Connette completed 15 of 28 passes and did not throw an interception.
"You always adjust to your personnel," Chryst said. "Obviously, I would think that coach Cutcliffe is a heck of a coach and he's going to adjust and play to his strengths, and each guy is different."
One man who could make life difficult for Connette today is Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald. After registering just three tackles in the opener against Florida State, Donald had five, including four for losses, against New Mexico's option offense.
A heavy dose of pressure from Donald could go a long way in helping the defense come down with an interception or two.
"He's not Superman, there isn't one," Chryst said. "But when he's got a chance, he puts himself in positions so if there's a chance he's going to be able to take advantage of it."
As a senior, Donald has played in his share of road games -- so today won't be a new experience for him -- but he still probably will get a "good luck" from Chryst before the Panthers take the field.
"You can try and help prepare them, and that's our job," Chryst said. "They're all great experiences and you can learn from each experience."
Sam Werner: email@example.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.