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Three things to watch in Saturday’s Pitt-Duke game

November 15, 2018

When reporters sat down with Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi after the week’s final practice to discuss the Duke game, no one mentioned the Panthers probably must win five in a row to claim the ACC Coastal championship.

It’s too early, Narduzzi is too focused on Duke and the possibility seems too outrageous for most fans of a 3-4 team to consider.

Although you should know, Walt Harris’ 2001 Pitt team started 1-5 before winning six in a row (seven if you count the 2002 opener).

But, for now, we will remain in the moment. Here are three doses of reality in regards to Saturday’s game:

1. Duke QB Jones is tough

All you need to know about Duke quarterback Daniel Jones is he broke his collarbone Sept. 9 against Northwestern had surgery, returned to practice 10 days later and missed only two games.

“I knew he was going to do whatever it takes to get back on the field,” former Duke quarterback Anthony Boone told the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer. Boone suffered the same injury in 2013.

“The team is really important to him. Duke is really important to him.”

Jones, 6-foot-5, 220, is a three-year starter who came into this season with 5,527 career passing yards and 30 touchdowns (but with 20 interceptions). The injury hasn’t affected Jones’ accuracy. He’s completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 1,061 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions in five games.

He’s also a projected first-round NFL Draft choice. Chris Trapasso of CBSSports.com has predicted Jones, only a junior, will go No. 2 overall to the New York Giants.

If Jones leaves school early, Narduzzi would have no problem with it.

“For (Duke) coach (David) Cutcliffe, I hope he doesn’t leave early,” he said. “For everybody else in the ACC that doesn’t want to play against him next year, we’re all hoping for it.”

2. Offensive balance

The passing game continues to lag far behind the ground game, and Pitt has no chance at a long -- or even a short -- winning streak until the two elements draw closer together.

Taysir Mack’s injury and the personnel issues at tight end have been a big part of that. Mack’s situation is a mystery, especially now with the ACC doing away with the weekly injury report before conference games.

That gives Narduzzi -- and any ACC coach -- the opportunity to spring a surprise on the opponent.

Quarterback Kenny Pickett is eight starts into his career, and it’s time for him to step forward. He’s thrown only two touchdown passes in the past three games.

3. Breakout game for Reynolds

It may be too much to ask from middle linebacker Elias Reynolds, a redshirt sophomore with one career start, but he plays an important position and Pitt needs to replace Quintin Wirginis’ explosiveness.

Reynolds said his physicality sets him apart, and Narduzzi doubled down on that thought.

“He’s as physical a linebacker as you’re going to have,” he said. “When he hits you, he pops you. Quintin can pop you, but when Elias hits you, he hits you. You hear it in practice.”

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