Dr. Pepper ACC Championship Preview – Clemson Tigers will Bite Down on the Pitt Panthers
By Allen Curtiss

TAMPA, FL – When asked, “who would win a fight between a tiger and a panther,” even SIRI sided with the Tiger.  Such is the seemingly insurmountable task that the Pitt Panthers face when they enter the arena as a 24-point underdog against the #2-ranked Clemson Tigers in the Dr. Pepper ACC Championship Football Game on Saturday, December 1 at 8 pm.

It is not that the Panthers are a bad football team.  Pitt is 7-5 & winners of ACC Coastal Division with a 6-2 mark.  It’s just that they are facing an undefeated Clemson Tiger team that has devoured 12 opponents in a row by an average score of 45.7 to 14.

For Clemson to lock down their 13th win of the season the formula is basic: be balanced on offense and get off the field on 3rd down.  The Tigers offense averages 256 yards per game on the ground and 282 in the air, while the defense has limited their opponents to a less than 30% third-down conversion rate. As for Pittsburgh, their offense has relied more on the run this year — averaging 237 yards per game and only 153 through the air. In addition, their offense ranked in the bottom half of the nation with a 3rd down conversion rate of less than 38%

Those looking to give the Panthers a chance in this one will point to Pitt’s 44-37 win vs. Syracuse.  There is also the close lose to #3 Notre Dame (19-14) and of course Pitt’s win at Death Valley in 2016, where they jumped the eventual national champions 43-42. They will also cite Clemson’s less than stellar victories vs Texas A&M (28-26), Syracuse (27-23) and the defense giving up 35 points vs South Carolina.  This was the most points the Clemson D gave up all year, but before Pitt backers get too excited most of those scores came through the air and Pitt only has 12 touchdowns through the air all year.

In looking toward Saturday night’s game, figure on the Clemson D coming out in a nasty mood after giving up 35 points last week and getting after Pitt QB Kenny Pickett.  The Tiger Defense will be lead by first-team All ACC defensive linemen Clelin Ferrell, Jr., Christian Wilkins, and Dexter Lawrence, Jr;  all part of a unit that combined for 43 sacks this season.

With 18 players being named to the all ACC team, and 9 of them on the defensive side of the ball, Clemson’s D should also be able to contain Pitt’s two-headed running attack of Maurice Ffrench and Qadree Ollison, each of whom have 10 touchdowns on the year.

The forecast currently calls for rain on Saturday night, and while bad weather is always the great equalizer in games like this; the faster guys are still faster, and Clemson has faster guys in the likes of RB Travis Etienne, and wideouts Tee Higgins, Amari Rodgers and Hunter Renfrow.  Those three have over 40 receptions each this season. Since taking over at quarterback, freshman Trevor Lawrence is completing over 66% of his passes and has 22 touchdowns.

Prediction: The weather and maybe a late score by Pitt, after Clemson pulls some starters, may make this one appear closer than it is. Final score: Clemson 38, Pitt 24.

Local Flavor:

Clemson has two players from the Tampa Bay area on their roster: Regan Upshaw (#53, LB, SO-R) from Bradenton and red-shirt sophomore wide receiver T.J Chase, from Plant City. Chase wears #18 and has 10 receptions on the year for 2 touchdowns.

Representing Pitt is Lakeland’s AJ Davis, a red-shirt sophomore running back who has appeared in 7 games this year.  Pitt is also the alma mater of Tampa Bay’s own Dave Moore, the former Buc’s TE and current radio analyst who excelled for the Panthers from 1989-1992.

Clemson racks up ACC Awards

During the annual ACC Football Awards the following Clemson players and coaches were honored:

  • Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence the 2018 Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year.
  • Head Coach Dabo Swinney the 2018 Atlantic Coach Conference Football Coach of the Year.
  • Travis Etienne he was named ACC Player of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year.
  • Clemson senior defensive end Clelin Ferrell, was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.

National Championship Preview

If you are watching the game with an eye on how Clemson can compete against Alabama in another national championship showdown, check out these 5 from the coach’s box:

  1. Trevor Lawrence needs both a quick release and accuracy. If Lawrence is quick and accurate (I didn’t say short throws), it’s a good sign moving forward.
  2. D-line Speed – Clemson was the fastest D line I saw in person last year and thought that would get them the win against Bama in 17. They need to be even faster off the ball this year and remain lane sound on pass rushes.
  3. Travis Etienne Tough Yards – Does he run behind his pads and fall forward when 3 yards is needed? His quickness and open field ability is amazing, but bowl time requires 3rd down conversions.
  4. Linebacker Fill – Pitt will try to run the ball so this will be a good preview of how the Clemson linebackers step up and seal any crease in the d-line.
  5. Receiver Roulette – Keep a close eye on Clemson’s formations as they try to isolate either one of the big 3 receivers or bring them all to the same side, either way it creates nightmares for secondary coaches and Clemson will be testing the waters for future games.