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With half of the season over, Clemson’s team identity is its defense.
The group has been a key factor in the Tigers going 3-1 in one-possession games over the last four contests, while the offense continues to work through growing pains and injuries to the line.
No. 23 Pittsburgh will be the biggest challenge yet, with the Panthers off to their best start since head coach Pat Narduzzi’s debut season in 2015. That year Pitt finished 8-5 and lost to Navy 44-28 in the Military Bowl.
Clemson vs Pitt TV channel and game info
Who: Clemson (4-2, 3-1) vs. Pittsburgh (5-1, 2-0)
Where: Heinz Field, Philadelphia, Penn.
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Vegas odds: Clemson vs Pittsburgh point spreads
Pitt is a 3½-point favorite against Clemson. It’s a far cry from a year ago when the Panthers were a 26½-point underdog in this matchup. The last time the Tigers were an underdog in an ACC game was against Louisville by one point on Oct. 1, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. The Tigers won that game — featuring Deshaun Watson vs. Lamar Jackson at QB — 42-36.
Clemson offense ‘is what it is’
For so long, the expectation for Clemson’s offense has been to pile up a lot of yards and score as many points as humanly possible. It was thought the Tigers would get to that point in 2021, but midway through the season, it doesn’t appear like it’s going to happen.
The identity of this year’s Clemson offense is flawed — do enough to win and grind out points. Outside of two losses to Georgia and N.C. State, two ranked teams, Clemson’s offense has been good enough to win. The Tigers are averaging 21.2 points and 324 yards per game and have put together highlight-worthy plays at times. Whether or not it will be good enough to get a win over Pitt remains to be seen.
Pittsburgh had one blemish to its record in a close loss to Western Michigan, but has otherwise had no problem handling opposing teams. The Panthers are averaging 48.3 points per game, led by quarterback Kenny Pickett. Off to one of their best starts in six years, the Panthers are the new favorite to win the ACC. ESPN’s Football Power Index gives them a 57.5% chance of taking it all, 17.4% chance of winning out and a 14.9% chance to make the College Football Playoff, which would be a program first.
Pitt has outscored its last three opponents 157-35 and returns home to play Clemson.
Three Pitt Panthers to watch
Kenny Pickett, QB: Kenny Pickett is having a banner year with 1,934 passing yards to go with 180 rushing yards and 24 total touchdowns after six games played. He ranks in the nation’s top 10 in nine categories, which includes a third-best passing efficiency of 181.83 and third-most points responsible for per game (24).
Jordan Addison, WR: For as well as Pickett is doing this season, Jordan Addison has benefited the most. As the leading receiver, he’s totaled 586 yards on 34 catches with nine touchdowns and is averaging 98.5 all-purpose yards per game.
Habakkuk Baldonado, DL: Pitt’s offense is complemented by a defense that ranks in the top 30 in the country, allowing 319.3 yards per game. Habakkuk Baldonado has helped the effort as a force on the Panthers’ defensive line with 19 tackles, 6½ for loss, 4½ sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery.
Three Clemson Tigers to watch
Davis Allen, TE: Despite a few drops, Davis Allen made catches at crucial times during the Tigers’ win over Syracuse and had a career-high eight catches for 49 yards. With the Tigers still working on their offense, incorporating Allen in the pass game will be important.
James Skalski, LB: Clemson’s defense is the team’s high point and James Skalski is the backbone of it all. The sixth-year senior continues to lead the group both verbally and statistically with 41 tackles and three pass breakups on the year heading into Saturday’s contest against Pitt.
Mario Goodrich, CB: Andrew Booth was out against Syracuse with a hamstring injury. If he can’t go again, Mario Goodrich will have to lead a thin secondary against Pitt’s pass-heavy offense. Against Syracuse, Goodrich had three tackles and four pass breakups.