Duke 51, Pitt 48: Five key plays

5 keys to Duke’s win

Laura Keeley covers Duke for The N&O

Five key plays in Duke’s 51-48, double-overtime win at Pitt:

1. 0-0 score, 1st quarter, Pitt ball, 4th and 3 at the Duke 30-yard line

This was the only true “mistake” of the game. The Panthers lined up for a 48-yard field goal try – and the holder, Ryan Winslow, couldn’t get the bad snap down on the grass. Chris Blewitt didn’t get a chance to try to kick the ball as Bryon Fields tackled Winslow for a 10-yard loss.

2. 28-21 Pitt, 2nd quarter, Duke ball, 3rd and 4 at the Pitt 44-yard line

Reserve sophomore tight end Erich Schiender was quarterback Anthony Boone’s target on a crucial 3rd-and-4 attempt with less than a minute remaining before halftime. He was split out wide right in a four-receiver formation and ran a short curl route at the first-down marker. Panthers safety Ray Vinopal, for some reason, gave Schiender about a 7-yard cushion and didn’t hit him until after he caught the ball. The 4-yard catch gave Duke just what it needed for the first down. That was the only third-down attempt and conversion on the Blue Devils’ touchdown drive just before the half that tied the game at 28-28.

3. 31-28 Duke, 4th quarter, Pitt ball, 2nd and 1 at the Duke 10-yard line

Senior Dezmond Johnson rushed quarterback Chad Voytik unblocked from his left defensive end spot, unfold by the play-action on the right side of the formation. So, as Voytik turned around, Johnson was there to swallow him up for a tackle for loss of 10 yards. That knocked the Pitt offense off schedule – a situation particularly tough for power running teams to overcome – and set up 3rd and 11 at the Duke 20-yard line. The Blue Devils pressured Voytik again, and the Panthers settled for a 38-yard field goal.

In a shootout like this, holding a team to a field goal is a fairly significant accomplishment.

4. 31-31, 4th quarter, Pitt kickoff to Duke

And right after the aforementioned 38-yard field goal, Blewitt sent his kickoff to DeVon Ewards, who fielded it at his 1-yard line. Working from the right hash, Edwards was able to shed a tackle attempt by Pitt’s Isaac Bennett, who lunged at him around the 13-yard line. Edwards worked his way left, where he picked up key blocks from Johnson, Shaq Powell, Terrence Alls and David Reeves. By the time he reached the 30-yard line, Edwards had kicked it into another gear and had nothing but grass in front of him. And 99 yards later, Edwards was in the end zone, putting Duke ahead 38-31.

It was his third career kickoff return for a touchdown, all of which have come in conference play in November.

5. 51-48 Duke, second overtime, Pitt ball, 1st and 10 at the Duke 25-yard-line

With James Conner on the sideline, the Panthers gave the ball to freshman Chris James. Safety Jeremy Cash was able to meet him at the line of scrimmage and, along with Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, stop James for no gain. That knocked Pitt off schedule, throwing off its preferred steady diet of runs. Voytik couldn’t gain any yards, either, on second down, and third and long was similarly unsuccessful. Settling for the 43-yard field goal – 17 yards longer than the chip shot Blewitt shanked at the end of regulation – proved costly, as a Duke touchdown on the ensuing possession ended the game.

Honorable mention

1. Thomas Sirk’s two snaps

Sirk played only two snaps, but they were certainly impactful ones. The first came with 3 seconds left before halftime, as Sirk entered the game and ran 1 yard up the middle into the Pitt end zone for the game-tying touchdown at 28-28. And the second snap came on the last play of the game – 3rd and 2 from the Pitt 5-yard line, which also resulted in a touchdown run.

Sirk hasn’t automatically entered the game on third and short this year, leading some (me, especially) to wonder how much faith coach David Cutcliffe has in his running specialist quarterback. Obviously, after today, the answer is a lot.

2. Cutcliffe’s two timeouts at the end of regulation

Only in college football can a coach call back-to-back timeouts. And, with three timeouts, Cutcliffe could have called back-to-back-to-back timeouts trying to ice Blewitt on his 26-yard attempt to win the game.

“I was just trying to break a rhythm and maybe set our own rhythm,” Cutcliffe told reporters after the game. “I knew I wasn’t going to take the third one, and I told our team that, too. I think about how to manage the end of games and I was trying to give our players the best chance to win. It seemed like the right thing to do.”

Judging by the 45-degree angle of Blewitt’s kick – that thing never had a prayer to split the uprights – Cutcliffe strategized correctly.