After a long three-week rest for offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and the Clemson football team, the third-ranked Tigers will finally get another opportunity to get back on the field this weekend as they get set to face Pittsburgh Saturday at Death Valley.
Following a roller coaster weekend from the Florida State situation, Clemson (7-1, 6-1 ACC) has fully moved its agenda towards a complete focus on the Panthers. It will be senior day for the Tigers this weekend and the last time the two teams faced off on a Clemson senior day, the Panthers upset Deshaun Watson and the then second-ranked Tigers, 43-42, in a shootout.
Similar to the team they faced four years ago, this Panthers (5-4, 4-4 ACC) are once again very well coached and looking to sell out on the run.
“Structurally, that’s what they want to do, stack the box,” said Elliott. “If you’ve got a five-man blocking service they’re going to have seven if you have a six-man, they’re going to have eight and they’re gonna make you win the one on one matchups and make contested plays. They’re going to force you to throw the low percentage balls and see if you can come up with those.
“They’ll give those up to stop the run so we just have to make sure we do a good job of keeping them honest, stay balanced the best you can and establish the run when you can. You’ve got to do some things to supplement your run game, but more importantly you’re gonna have to throw and catch and make those plays downfield.”
Led by Patrick Jones II, who is currently tied for second in the country in sacks this season, the Pitt defense has been one of the best at getting to the quarterback.
Currently ranked eighth in total defense, the Panthers are also tied for fourth in interceptions with 11 and first in sacks with 38.0 total sacks, eight in front of 2nd ranked Clemson. Also, they are first in the country in tackles for loss.
“If they’re playing their base defense obviously they’re going to rush four,” said Elliott. “Their ends are as good as anybody in the country, they’re very highly rated on the NFL boards. They play hard and they’re very, very well coached.
“When they’re in a situation where they want to rush six, then the backs are going to be critical. Not just the backs, but the quarterback as well being able to identify and make sure that structurally we have our things called in the right direction so we can pick up the rush.”
Heading into Saturday’s game, the Tigers may be playing the most dangerous defense they’ve faced so far this season. Clearly filled with a lot of respect for what the Panthers do down in Pittsburgh, Elliott has been very impressed with that group.
“Man they do a great job,” the offensive coordinator said. “Again, shout out to their coaches, they’re very well coached. The young men over there play hard and because they don’t do a ton of defense, they’re really, really good at what they do. I think it allows them to get pressure with four and when they do decide to bring the blitz, they’re very effective with it because their players know what they’re trying to get done.”