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Pitt hosts Duke as both aim for strong finishes

Nov 12, 2022; Durham, North Carolina, USA;  Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Elko looks on during the first half against Virginia Tech at Wallace Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports

Duke and Pitt have bigger visions of how this season can turn out.

The teams play Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh with second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division possibly at stake.

But at this point, despite what both coaches say, what both teams are really playing for is the best placement for bowl season.

Pittsburgh (6-4, 3-3 ACC), winner of consecutive games for the first time since September, is gearing up for its home finale after becoming bowl eligible last week at Virginia. The Panthers won the ACC last season.

“We’re not worried about being bowl eligible,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “That was not our goal going in. We figured we’d get there. We want to be undefeated in November (and that means) going 1-0 against Duke.”

In its first year under coach Mike Elko, Duke (7-3, 4-2) is enjoying its best season since 2015 — the last time it won four conference games.

“We started this thing to become the best football team we could be this year, and not just to become a bowl-eligible football team,” Elko said. “Now it is figuring out how to get eight (wins).”

This is Duke’s first seven-win regular season since 2018. Elko is the first coach of the Blue Devils with seven wins in his first season since Fred Goldsmith’s 8-4 mark in 1994.

Pitt running back Israel Abanikanda has reached the 100-yard rushing mark in seven games this season. Yet the Panthers have been ordinary on offense the past couple of games, benefitting from two defensive touchdowns last Saturday against Virginia and going the last three quarters without reaching the end zone.

“We have to score more points on offense,” Narduzzi said.

The Panthers might get more traction with center Bub Means back on the field. He played last week for the first time after a seven-game absence because of an injury.

Duke’s defense stood strong against the run in its victory last week against Virginia Tech, holding the Hokies under 105 rushing yards. Duke is 6-0 this season when its run defense is that good.

“The biggest thing was we controlled the line of scrimmage,” Elko said.

Riley Leonard is the second quarterback in Duke history with 10-plus rushing and passing touchdowns in the same season.

“Confidence to me is the greatest thing in all of sports,” Leonard said.

–Field Level Media