Why Clemson is in a must-win situation on the road against Pitt this weekend

·3 min read

Entering the final stretch of the season, Clemson’s chances to be the explosive offense of years past are dwindling. While some don’t believe it’s there, the Tigers maintain full confidence in their ability to have a breakout game.

The back half of their schedule is arguably the toughest than the first six games with the Tigers having to face No. 23 Pitt this week on the road and 16th-ranked Wake Forest on Nov. 20 at home. Progress has been slower than some would’ve liked, but the group is incrementally getting better, leaning on the defense in the meantime.

The Tigers attributed some of the mental lapses and slower learning curve to not properly ignoring the outside noise because of how prevalent it is.

“When I was coming up, somebody just maybe wrote a bad article in the local newspaper and that was about it, and you hoped your grandmother didn’t read it,” Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney said. “You still had the people at the barber shop, but now all the people at the barber shop have a national forum and all the media sees it, so that’s all they get right now is how bad they are and how much their coaches stink. … As a young person, you’ve got to learn how to block that stuff out.”

This week, Clemson is facing a make-or-break situation where it must eliminate self-inflicted mistakes and mental lapses. It’s not just about keeping its ACC championship hopes alive. It’s also keeping the team’s streak of 10 straight 10-win seasons going. The last single-digit win season the program had was in 2010 when the Tigers went 6-7, tied for fourth in the Atlantic Division, and lost to South Florida 31-26 in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. It was Swinney’s second full season as the Tigers’ head coach.

At 4-2 overall, Clemson will have to win out to reach at least 10 wins in the regular season. Getting the next victory won’t be easy against a rolling, one-loss Panthers squad.

For as good as the Pitt offense is — it ranks nationally in multiple categories and first in the ACC — the Panthers have a stout defense as well. The group is tied with the Demon Deacons for second-most sacks in the ACC with 21 and fourth in the conference for fewest points allowed (20.0).

The Tigers’ defense had success against Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett last year, sacking the fifth-year senior six times to go along with four interceptions in a 52-17 victory. For any chance of that happening again, Clemson’s offense has to help keep its own defense off the field. After being on the field for less than 20 minutes against N.C. State, the Tigers’ offense has done better at staying on the field the last two games, averaging a time possession of 31:20.

Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei is also starting to feel more confident and played his best game yet against Syracuse last week. The next step will be continuity and improving health on the offensive line and having someone in the receiving corps step up with consistent catches.

For weeks now, Clemson has been waiting for a more characteristic offensive game. Will this be the week?

“I’m telling y’all, this week, it might be it,” Tigers wide receiver Ajou Ajou said. “It’s going to be it. I believe it.”

Prediction: Pitt 33, Clemson 14

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