Here are a handful of relevant numbers to note as second-ranked Clemson prepares to take on Pittsburgh on Saturday in Death Valley. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally by ABC.
6: Times Clemson has defended a conference championship in school history. This total includes the 1903 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association title, the Tigers’ second in a row and third in a four-year span. Since joining the ACC, Clemson has defended its conference crown five times: 1966, 1967 (third in a row, including a shared title in 1965), 1982, 1987, and 1988 (third in a row). The Tigers cannot win an ACC title on Saturday, but a win would sew up the Atlantic Division for the second straight year and send them to Orlando with a second straight league title on the line.
12: Number of games started by Wayne Gallman, Artavis Scott, Deshaun Watson, and Mike Williams together. This number seems low, and it’s true they all have played alongside each other in several more, but the list is short as starters. In addition to all nine games from this season, just three additional games qualify: the 2014 game at Georgia Tech, the 2014 game against South Carolina, and the 2015 season opener against Wofford. Injuries and depth have suppressed this number over time, and there are only a handful of opportunities left to see this foursome take the field together since Dabo Swinney said this week that all of them would be entering the NFL Draft after the season.
18.6: Yards allowed per kickoff return by Clemson this season. It’s obvious that the Tigers are much improved in this area from a year ago, when they allowed 24.9 yards per kick return—a year-to-year decrease of more than 25 percent. They have improved from 116th nationally in that category in 2015 to 27th in 2016. The improvements the Clemson kick coverage team has displayed will be tested on Saturday against Pitt. The Panthers boast the top kickoff returner in the nation in Quadree Henderson. The 5’8” sophomore from Delaware leads the country in both yards per return (33.8) and touchdowns (3). Henderson has returns for scores in two of his past three games, including one against Miami last week.
33: Sacks earned by Clemson’s defense this season. 14 different Tiger defenders have at least 0.5 sacks, and no one on Brent Venables’ defense has more than Carlos Watkins’ 5.5 for the year. Clemson will need a group effort to disrupt the backfield against Pittsburgh and quarterback Nathan Peterman. The Panthers are tied for second in the nation in sacks allowed, as Peterman has only been felled six times all season. This is primarily due to two things—the Panthers employ quick-strike West Coast principles in their passing game, and their offense is at its best when the run game is heavily utilized. Protecting the pocket is one reason why Pitt has scored 28 or more points in each of its nine contests in 2016 so far.
317.1: Passing yards allowed by Pittsburgh this season. That average ranks 126th in the country, meaning only two teams—Rice and Arizona State—have been worse defending the pass this year. That seems like quite the concern against a Clemson team that ranks third in the ACC in passing offense and boasts all-conference frontrunners at quarterback, wide receiver, and tight end. The Panthers have actually had two games that skew their average, as they only allowed a combined 249 yards through the air to Villanova and Georgia Tech—two offenses that don’t exactly try to stretch the field on a regular basis. That should make it clear how poor Pitt has been against teams that emphasize the forward pass.