The 411 on Clemson's loss to Pitt

The 411 on Clemson's loss to Pitt

Football

The 411 on Clemson's loss to Pitt

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PITTSBURGH — No. 24 Clemson was outscored 27-10 over the final three and half quarters by No. 23 Pittsburgh on Saturday at Heinz Field, dropping the Tigers to 4-3 overall and 3-2 in ACC play. Here are four sequences that went a long way toward determining the outcome, a turning point and a telling stat from the Tigers’ 27-17 loss.

  • After the teams traded a few punts to start, Clemson drove into Pitt territory on its second possession before D.J. Uiagalelei was intercepted by Damarri Mathis inside the Panthers’ 10-yard line to end a promising drive. But the Tigers’ offense got the ball right back after forcing another punt and pieced together an 80-yard drive to take an early lead. After finding Ajou Ajou for a 36-yard completion on third-and-6 to the Panthers’ 22. Phil Mafah ran for seven more yards before Uiagalelei got the Tigers on the doorstep with a 10-yard pass to Justyn Ross. Two plays later, Mafah punched it in from a yard to give Clemson an early lead with 1 minute, 29 seconds left in the opening quarter.
  • Clemson took over possession at its own 2 late in the first quarter but got out of the shadow of its own goal line, moving 36 yards over the next six plays. It looked like the Tigers had extended their lead when they got the advantageous matchup of running back Will Shipley on a linebacker in coverage. Uiagalelei hit Shipley in stride down the middle of the field. But Shipley dropped the pass, and the Tigers punted four plays later. Momentum shifted after that to Pitt, which put together back-to-back scoring drives to take a 14-7 lead into the half. Kenny Pickett capped the first one with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Addison before the Panthers took advantage of more man coverage on their ensuing possession. Facing fourth-and-5 from Clemson’s 38, Taysir Mack gave freshman Barrett Carter an inside move before breaking back to the middle of a vacant field to haul in the go-ahead score with 40 seconds left in the second quarter.
  • After a second interception early in the second half, this one a pick-six that gave Pitt a two-touchdown lead, Clemson made the change from D.J. Uiagalelei to Taisun Phommachanh at quarterback. Phommachanh completed his first pass when he rolled out and found Ross for a 14-yard completion on third-and-6. He followed that up with a 17-yard run on a keeper to move Clemson all the way to Pitt’s 35. Another third-down completion gave Clemson a fresh set of downs at the Panthers’ 23 before things stalled out. The Tigers ultimately had to settle for a 42-yard field goal as Pitt maintained its two-score lead, and the Panthers got those points right back when they moved 49 yards on 11 plays on their next possession to set up Sam Scarton’s 44-yard field goal. Pitt’s drive milked more than 5 minutes off the clock and made it 24-10 with 1:10 left.
  • Pitt further tightened its hold on its first win over Clemson since 2016 with another methodical drive that extended the Panthers’ lead once again early in the fourth quarter. Pickett extended the drive by finding Lucas Krull for 13 yards on third-and-3 to get into Clemson territory. The Panthers covered 64 yards on 11 plays in all, eventually reaching the Tigers’ 16 before sending Scarton out for another field goal. His 34-yarder pushed Pitt’s lead to 27-10 with 9:30 remaining, far too deep of a hole for Clemson to climb out of even after the Tigers answered with Uiagalelei’s 6-yard touchdown run a few minutes later.

Turning point

Clemson got the ball out of the locker room and avoided disaster when receiver Ajou Ajou recovered Uiagalelei’s fumble near midfield on the third play of the third quarter. But the Tigers’ good fortune didn’t last much longer. Four plays later, Clemson dialed up a shovel pass to Kobe Pace, but the ball never got to Clemson’s running back. Pitt linebacker SirVocea Dennis read the play, broke into the backfield and waited on Uiagalelei’s pass back inside. With nobody between him and the end zone, Dennis ran the interception back 50 yards to push Pitt’s lead to 21-7 less than four minutes into the third quarter. For an offense that yet again failed to crack the 20-point mark against an FBS team in regulation — and a defense that had its share of trouble getting stops over the final two quarters — it was a backbreaker.

Telling stat: 2

That’s how many interceptions Uiagalelei threw — a season-high — and it wasn’t just the number that contributed to Clemson’s first double-digit loss to an ACC opponent since 2014. Clemson drove into Pitt territory on each of its first possessions but didn’t score on either. The latter ended the Tigers’ first real chance at points when Uiagalelei rolled to his right to avoid pressure and lofted a pass for Ross down the sideline that was intercepted at Pitt’s 5. But his second interception on an ill-advised shovel pass early in the third quarter gave Pitt a two-score lead the Tigers never cut into and ultimately got Uiagalelei benched for most of the second half.

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