After giving up 600 yards the previous week to rival South Carolina, Clemson’s defense bounced back the way many thought it would in last week’s ACC Championship Game.
The Tigers held Pittsburgh to 199 total yards. They forced three turnovers and had three sacks in the 42-10 victory at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
“Oh man! This is more my type of game,” defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence said.
Lawrence finished the night with five tackles overall, one sack and 2.5 tackles for loss.
“You know, you just kind of got to prepare for whatever a team brings to you,” the junior said. “It definitely was a bloodier-nose type of team and we knew that coming into the game, going into the week that we were going to have to prepare like no other and take all the good-on-good periods in practice real hard.”
The Tigers (13-0) did take it hard, especially on the back end of the defense. South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley shredded the Clemson secondary for 510 yards and five touchdowns. And though Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett is not the same kind of passer as Bentley, it was still impressive that Tigers held the Panthers to eight yards passing on 4-of-16 pass attempts.
“It was an awesome performance,” linebacker Tre Lamar said. “We did a lot of film study and had a lot of great practices. We got a lot of good looks at practice. The scout team did a great job, so I felt like we really went out here focused and was ready to do our job.”
The defense not only did its job, but it also helped the offense out. The Tigers scored touchdowns off all three turnovers, but the defense directly set up two of the three touchdowns.
In the first quarter, linebacker Isaiah Simmons sacked Pickett and stripped the football from his hands at the Pitt 20. Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins picked up the loose football and rumbled 17 yards to the 3-yard line. Running back Travis Etienne scored on the next play for a 14-0 lead.
Just before the half, A.J. Terrell intercepted a Pickett pass at the Pitt 41 and returned it 31 yards to the 10-yard line. On the next play, quarterback Trevor Lawrence hit wide receiver Tee Higgins on a slant in the end zone, giving the Tigers a 28-10 halftime lead.
The game was subsequently over at that point.
“That takeaway was big. It gave us a lot of momentum and it affected the team in a good way,” Terrell said.
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables liked how excited his unit was to play and to prove to themselves the South Carolina game was not indictive to how they play.
“They answered the challenge,” he said. “It says a lot about the kind of guys they are and the determination they have. They are not a group that gets easily satisfied. So, that was neat to see. They put on a great performance.”
Clemson heads into its Cotton Bowl matchup with Notre Dame on Dec. 29, as part of the College Football Playoff semifinals, ranked second nationally in scoring defense (13.7 points/game), third in rushing defense (92.9 yards/game) and fourth nationally in total defense (276.7 yards/game).
In last week’s ACC Championship Game, the Tigers proved they are worthy of all of those national rankings.
“As a whole our defense stood up to the task,” Terrell said.