Clemson and Pittsburgh will meet on the gridiron for the first time since the 1977 Gator Bowl when the Panthers visit Death Valley today for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff.
The game will be televised nationally by ABC
With a win, the Tigers can clinch the ACC’s Atlantic Division title and a berth in next month’s ACC Championship Game. So, who has the edge is this key matchup?
Deshaun Watson vs. Pitt’s secondary: Watson can make a good secondary look bad. Ask Alabama for a reference. The All-American is arguably the best “quarterback” in the country, completing 64.4 percent of his passes for 2,497 yards and 24 touchdowns. Even worse news for Pitt is the fact Watson seems to be hitting his stride and has found his touch on the deep ball. He threw two beautifully thrown passes in last week’s win over Syracuse. One went to Deon Cain for a 65-yard touchdown. The other was dropped by Mike Williams. If Williams catches the pass, perhaps it too would have gone for six points. With Clemson’s talent at wide receiver and Watson’s ability, it would seem the Panthers would play zone against the Tigers’ offense. However, Pat Narduzzi loves to play press-man and he has done it all year despite the fact Pitt ranks last in the ACC and 126th nationally in passing yards allowed at 317.1 yards per game. The Panthers have just four interceptions though nine games. Advantage: Clemson
James Conner vs. Clemson’s run defense: Conner is the Panthers’ workhorse. The junior has rushed for 712 yards on 155 carries, while scoring 11 touchdowns. Conner has speed and power. He loves to make contact and will wear down a defense with the way in which he runs the ball. The Tigers’ run defense has been average at best this year. As talented as the Tigers are up front—and they are—they are still allowing one or two long runs a game, especially when they have played elite athletes such as Florida State’s Dalvin Cook and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson as both waited patiently before breaking of a couple of long runs. Clemson ranks seventh in the ACC in rushing yards allowed at 132.8 yards per game. Advantage: Pitt
Clemson’s Brent Venables vs. Pitt’s Matt Canada: Over its last eight contests, Pitt has scored a combined 305 points, an average of 38.1 points per game. It is the Panthers’ highest point total over an eight-game stretch in 39 years. The 1977 season was the last time a Pitt team scored more during an eight-game span. That year the Panthers compiled 344 points (43.0 ppg.) during a 7-0-1 stretch that included victories over Temple (76-0), Boston College (45-7), Navy (34-17), Syracuse (28- 21), Tulane (48-0), West Virginia (44-3) and Army (52-26), as well as a 17-17 tie with Florida. The 2016 Panthers are the first team in school history to score at least 36 points in seven consecutive games. That streak began with a 42-39 win over Penn State (Sept. 10) and was snapped in a 51-28 loss at Miami (Nov. 5). Offensive coordinator Matt Canada is a big reason for the Panthers’ huge numbers. Though his offense is considered pro-style, Canada will do many different things with his formations as he loves to move people around and will to disguise what he wants to do like throwing the ball to the tackle or running and an end-around reverse to the left tackle. Venables likes to confuse defenses as well as he runs all kinds of exotic blitzes and stunts. He also likes to move the defensive line a lot, and has a lot of guys standing up when the balls is snapped. Advantage: Clemson
Bottom line: Pitt’s offense will have some success moving the football, but the Tigers defense is perhaps the best the Panthers have seen to this point this year. Watson, if he plays, should have his best game of the year depending on his shoulder. Watson was on the money last week as two of his three incompletions were dropped passes.
Prediction: Clemson 45, Pitt 10