Saturday kind of felt like a season opener all over again for No. 3 Clemson.
Prior to Saturday’s 52-17 victory over Pittsburgh, the Tigers had not played a game in 21 days. It was the longest stretch without playing a game in the regular season since the 1918 team went 28 days in between games.
“We were really eager to play,” head coach Dabo Swinney said after the game.
Clemson’s eagerness to get back on the field showed, as the well-rested Tigers humbled a Pitt team that had won two straight games and was feeling confident.
The Tigers (8-1, 7-1 ACC) had not played since their double-overtime loss to Notre Dame on Nov. 7. A scheduled off-week followed and then last week, Florida State postponed their scheduled game with Clemson three hours before kickoff after a Clemson player tested positive for COVID-19 the night before.
Clemson was not happy about the Seminoles’ decision, and Swinney showed his frustration for much of the week.
“I know we had a lot of drama last week, but we did not have a single player (test) positive. Not one. That is a credit to these guys,” Swinney said. “That just speaks to their commitment to do what they need to do to give themselves a chance to play.”
Swinney said, like the entire season, the whole week had been a challenge for the Tigers.
“It has been a good challenge,” he said. “It has made us better as coaches. It made us better as a team. As I said in the last couple of weeks, we are trending in the right direction as far as getting some guys back.”
The Tigers got quarterback Trevor Lawrence back, as well as defensive tackle Tyler Davis and linebacker James Skalski on Saturday. Lawrence threw for 403 yards and two touchdowns, while Davis and Skalski helped a Clemson defense that forced five turnovers, had four interceptions and six sacks.
The Panthers (5-5, 4-5 ACC) rushed for 14 yards and were held to 244 total yards overall. Quarterback Kenny Pickett threw for just 209 yards, 80 yards below his season average and was charged with all four interceptions.
“I am just proud of our guys and our coaches for just finding a way,” Swinney said. “And just having guys stepping up.”
Clemson opened the game by scoring 31 points in the first quarter, a school record for points scored in the opening 15 minutes. Three of the Tigers’ four interceptions came in the first 15 minutes.
“These guys were super, super eager to get back out there and get back to playing,” Swinney said. “Again, these guys fought for their season. They love to play the game. They love to play, and they love to compete. They loved the preparation.
“They are committed group, and I am really proud of them… Hopefully, we can stay focused and sprint to the finish line.”
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