After strong start, Clemson's D falls flat

After strong start, Clemson's D falls flat

Football

After strong start, Clemson's D falls flat

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It was bound to happen eventually.

Despite Clemson’s championship-caliber defense, the Tigers have had to embrace a bend, but don’t break mentality. That dam finally broke against the nation’s No. 2 scoring offense and darkhorse Heisman candidate, Kenny Pickett.

Clemson’s defense has outperformed the offense all season, but Brent Venables’ unit could only hold on for so long during Saturday’s 27-17 loss to No. 23 Pitt. The offense hasn’t played up to the standard that’s been set by previous Tigers’ teams and that’s putting it mildly.

After jumping out to an early lead, Clemson’s defense was able to keep Pickett and Pitt’s offense on its heels for the first quarter. That only lasted so long as Pickett, who Dabo Swinney described earlier this week as a “rhythm quarterback,” was able to get into a flow once the game bled into the second quarter.

In fact, Clemson’s defense allowed a total of 195 yards of total offense in just the second quarter alone.

Pitt had all the offensive momentum heading into the break and even though Clemson received the second-half kickoff, that offensive energy carried over into the game’s remaining 30 minutes of play. 

Of course, it didn’t help that D.J. Uiagalelei threw a pick-six on a shovel pass on the opening drive of the second half. That wound up being the difference.

Anytime Clemson’s defense needed to get off the field, they weren’t able to. That really hadn’t been the case in the six games prior. Clemson had been able to rely on its defense to keep them in games, but that just wasn’t the case against a potent.

Pitt punted the ball four times during the course of Saturday’s game, unfortunately for Clemson, the Panthers’ last punt came with 11 minutes and 19 seconds remaining in the second quarter. A telling stat for a defense unable to get off the field.

With the defense reeling and obviously out of gas late in the fourth quarter, Pickett called his own number and was able to convert on a 3rd-and-6. He got up and pumped his fist. That play in question was a microcosm of Clemson’s late afternoon defensive performance. 

The defense was tired, unable to get any push up front, while Pickett did what he’s done all season, make a play when called upon. He completed 25-of-39 passes with 302 yards and two passing touchdowns.

Sure, Pitt’s offense only had the ball for three offensive possessions in the second half, but they controlled the ball for over 20 minutes, running 37 plays, gaining 162 yards and scoring just six points. Those stats don’t jump off the page, but they were able to control the ball and convert when it mattered.

Coming into the game, Clemson’s defense had only allowed 12.50 points per game, with 14 being the most points the​ Tigers have allowed in regulation. The nation’s No. 2 scoring defense was no match for the nation’s No. 2 scoring offense, allowing Pitt to score 27 points in a 10-point defeat.

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