Victory at Duke exposes weaknesses on Panthers defense


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After Pitt's wild 58-55 win Saturday against Duke, Panthers coach Paul Chryst was quick to praise his team's ability to find a way to win when faced with adversity on the road.

He also noted that the Panthers found a way to make it closer than it probably should have been.

Pitt's defense did nothing to contain Duke's spread offense and, despite the Panthers scoring their most points in 18 years, allowed the Blue Devils to stay in the game late in the fourth quarter.

"I think [Duke has] got some guys that can certainly make some plays," Chryst said. "Absolutely, we've got to do everything we can as a coaching staff to find ways to help. This is who we are right now and we've got to work to get better."

The Panthers allowed Duke to roll up 532 yards of total offense, including 167 in the fourth quarter. Chryst said it was tough to be sure what the exact problems on defense were until he watched the film this week.

After Pitt went ahead, 51-28, with 3:18 left in the third -- the Panthers' largest lead of the game -- the defense responded by allowing Duke to score on a 75-yard touchdown pass on the first play of its next drive, giving the Blue Devils hope and keeping them within striking distance.

"I wouldn't say [I'm] frustrated," defensive lineman Aaron Donald said. "There's disappointment at times when you give up a first-play drive for 75 yards and let them score. But we stayed together and we kept fighting and we came out with a win. I'm happy with that."

Pitt's defense seemed to turn a corner last week when it shut down New Mexico's option rushing attack. But against Duke's spread, Pitt defenders had trouble defending the Blue Devils in the open field, similar to the struggles they had in the opener against Florida State.

"Last week we did a better job of, maybe, assignment football," Chryst said. "When they take a defense and they spread you apart, there are components, there are options. If one guy is off on his thing, whether his eyes are wrong or doesn't defeat a block, [it doesn't work]."

Things worked out OK for Pitt Saturday, but only because the offense was able to score enough and seal the win with a key third-down conversion late in the game.

"We're split up most of the time, offense and defense, but at the end of the day it's a team game," wide receiver Devin Street said. "We got on them, they got on us too. That's what we have to do, we have to push each other to be great."

NOTE -- Quarterback Tom Savage was named the Walter Camp national offensive player of the week. Savage completed 23 of 33 passes for a career-high 424 yards and tied a conference record with six touchdown passes against the Blue Devils.

pittsports - sportscollegedistrict

Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.


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