Narduzzi: ‘Clemson is the best football team we’ve played’
When Pat Narduzzi was asked to compare playing Clemson to Notre Dame following the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 1, the Pitt head coach did not hesitate at all to answer the question.
“There’s no comparison. Clemson is the best football team we’ve played so far to this point,” he said.
Narduzzi knows more about the 2018 Cotton Bowl matchup than most. His Panthers went into South Bend, Ind., on a picturesque fall afternoon on Oct. 13 and nearly came away with an upset. The Irish had to rally in the final 17 minutes to beat the Panthers, 19-14.
Second-ranked Clemson will face the Irish in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, as part of the College Football Playoff Semifinals.
Pitt held No. 3 Notre Dame to 80 rushing yards and to just 344 yards overall. The Irish averaged just 2.1 yards per carry.
Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book did complete 26-of-32 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns in the comeback-win, but he also threw two interceptions.
Against Clemson, while playing in a driving rain storm, the Panthers had no answer for the Tigers’ running game, even though they knew the run was coming. Clemson rushed for 301 yards on just 35 carries. The Tigers averaged 8.6 yards per carry in the mud and the slop at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
From a statistical standpoint, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence did not have his best game against the Panthers (12-24, 118 yards), but he did throw two touchdown passes and more importantly he did not turn the football over. Overall, the Tigers totaled 419 yards against the Panthers in a 42-10 victory on a neutral field.
Clemson’s defense held the Panthers to 199 total yards, an ACC Championship Game record.
“They deserve to be where they are,” Narduzzi said about the Tigers. “They’ll probably win a national championship, in my opinion. It’s a good football team from the front end to the back end as far as the talent they’ve got.
“Dabo (Swinney) has done a great job, ton of respect for him, love that guy. Clemson is the measuring stick in the ACC right now. They’ve got it going.”
Pittsburgh isn’t the only common opponent the Tigers and Irish have in common.
They both also played Wake Forest, Florida State and Syracuse.
Notre Dame (12-0) beat Wake Forest, 56-27, in Winston-Salem. It beat Florida State, 42-13, in South Bend and then beat Syracuse at Yankee Stadium in New York, 36-3.
Clemson (13-0) beat Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, 63-3. It beat Florida State in Tallahassee, 59-10, and it also beat the Orange, 27-23, at Death Valley.
The Syracuse game for both teams can be skewed just a bit. Syracuse lost quarterback Eric Dungey for the game in the first quarter against Notre Dame with the Orange driving.
Against Clemson, Syracuse went the last two and a half quarters without having to face Lawrence, which was the same week former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant left the program because Lawrence was named the starter. The Tigers found a way to win the game instead with its third-string quarterback at the time, Chase Brice, who completed a fourth-and-six play to keep the game-winning drive alive.
Granted, you cannot transfer the properties of one team’s win over an opponent to another when comparing teams. However, a head coach who has played both, who has strategized against both and who has studied both teams, he can.
“(Clemson is) a talented football team. They’re the best we’ve seen, to answer that question,” Narduzzi said.