PITTSBURGH — Clemson will have some opportunities to make some big plays in the passing when it visits No. 23 Pittsburgh on Saturday. The question is will it be able to take advantage of the Panthers’ aggressive style of play?
“There have been some plays that people have not made against them. They have gotten away with it,” Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said.
The Tigers (4-2, 3-1 ACC) have not had that many opportunities to get the ball downfield to its wide receivers. Most of their opponents have deployed an umbrella defense on them, forcing them to be patient and consistent. Something the Clemson offense has struggled to do all year.
And when they have gotten those rare opportunities, they have not converted them. For example, Clemson receivers dropped five passes last week and in the past few weeks quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei has either missed his targets, or his receivers have dropped potential game-changing plays.
Considering Pitt (5-1, 2-0 ACC) leads the conference in scoring (48.3 pts/game) and total offense (530.5 yds/game), the Tigers’ offense will need to help its top scoring defense (12.5 pts allowed/game) out if it hopes to leave Pittsburgh with a much-needed victory.
“They have an offense that is scoring a bunch of points, so they can be aggressive on defense, and they can attack,” Elliott said.
Clemson is hoping that is where it can have an edge on the Panthers. But that is much easier said than done. After giving up 34 points to Tennessee and 44 in a loss to Western Michigan, Pitt’s defense has played lights out in its last three games.
“They gave up some plays in the Western Michigan game. They did a nice job and kind of got them on some gameplan stuff,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “You can see that they kind of learned from that and kind of cleaned up on some of their issues with their eyes and how they were trading some things off on the backend.
“They missed some tackles as well, but they have cleaned it up and have played really well since then. This is a very physical and tough group with a bunch of guys that are going to play on Sunday.”
The Panthers have allowed an average of 11.6 points in their last three games, including just seven in wins over New Hampshire and Virginia Tech.
“That is a sign of a very experienced group. They are very experienced on the backend,” Swinney said. “They don’t do a lot. They just do what they do very well.
“They are very good, and they believe in a very attacking style of play. They do a good job inside of getting after your offensive line and getting after the run game if the safeties are down in there.”
Case in point. Pitt held the Hokies to 90 yards on the ground and 224 overall in a 28-7 win last week in Blacksburg, Virginia.
“Their D-Line is playing with a lot of confidence. They are very, very disruptive,” Elliott said. “They have a lot of depth, so I think they have kind of settled in at the linebacker spot and who they want in there.”
They want defensive tackles Calijah Kancey (6-0, 275) and Keyshon Camp (6-4, 290) in there. They are the two problem players on the defensive line.
“Those two inside guys are very disruptive, so we are going to have to a good job managing those guys,” Elliott said.
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