CHARLOTTE — Second-ranked Clemson cruised to its fourth consecutive ACC Championship with a 42-10 victory over Pittsburgh effectively clinching a spot in the College Football Playoff for the fourth year in a row as well.
Last week it struggled defensively to matchup schematically with rival-South Carolina surrendering 600 total yards. Saturday, the Tigers held the Panthers, who won four of their last five to clinch the Coastal Division, to 200 yards of total offense and just eight yards passing.
Clemson caused three turnovers in the ACC Championship Game, forcing a pair of fumbles and intercepting a pass. All three take-aways resulted in touchdowns and allowed the offense to get a jump start and keep its foot on the gas.
Defensive back A.J. Terrell caused one of those turnovers with the games only interceptions despite Pitt’s Kenny Pickett only throwing the ball 16 times with four completions. He is proud of how the defensive unit responded to adversity and delivered with another league title and playoff berth.
“Last week we gave up a lot of yards but this week was big because we really stepped up and handled adversity,” Terrell said.
The first turnover came on the Panther’s second drive of the game, after a pair of false starts and a delay of game Pitt found itself on its own 21 facing third-and-28. Pickett tried to evade the pocket and Isaiah Simmons jarred the ball lose forcing a fumble. Christian Wilkins scooped the ball returning it to the three to set up a three-yard touchdown run by Travis Etienne giving Clemson a 14-0 lead.
Pittsburgh had the ball with one minute to play at its own 20 late in the second quarter down 21-10. After picking up a first down on an 11-yard rush from Pickett, they decided to air it out for a shot at one last score before the half.
On third-and-10 Pickett dropped back to pass and was intercepted by Terrell who returned the ball 31 yards to the Pitt ten. The play set up a 10-yard touchdown pass by Trevor Lawrence to give Clemson a 28-10 lead at the break.
“The takeaway was big, it was our second one of the game and it gave us a lot of momentum,” Terrell said. “It affected our team in a good way and helped us come out victorious.”
For Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, that turnover was important. It allowed the Tigers to separate from the Panthers entering the break and keep a gritty Pittsburgh team out of striking distance.
“We needed something to happen and we gave the offense a short field to punch it in and score,” Venables said. “Teams like this can make you pay if you let them hang around.”
The Tigers forced another turnover in the fourth quarter, recovering a Pittsburgh fumble that led to another touchdown, all three turnovers led to touchdowns.
Now Clemson’s fate is in the hands of the College Football Playoff committee who decide its destination at noon on Sunday for a certain CFP bid.