The last time Clemson failed to cover a hefty point spread against an over-matched opponent was when the Tigers faced Georgia Southern on a rainy, tropical storm-addled day in the Carolinas.
This time around the Tigers could be facing more rain while fending off the Pitt Panthers, who are trending down after a hot start in 2018.
But oh, yeah – another thing. The battle is for the ACC Championship. And there’s no doubt about how Vegas odds-makers think the game is going to go in Charlotte.
Who: Clemson Tigers vs Pittsburgh Panthers
When: Saturday, December 1st, 8 PM EST
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
Lines: Clemson (-26.5) vs Pitt (+26.5) / O/U Total: (54)
It has been the Tigers and everyone else in the ACC once again as Clemson breezed to an undefeated regular season. The Tigers have not been near a defeat since their 27-23 come from behind win against Syracuse in September.
A top-5 offense is piloted by ultra-efficient freshman Trevor Lawrence, who only has 4 interceptions in his maiden year of collegiate ball. But despite the enormous success of the teenage gunslinger, the Tigers would not have come this far without the break-out campaign of sophomore RB Travis Etienne. The Louisiana native is a threat to score with every touch, averaging an unreal 8.0 yards per carry and scoring 19 touchdowns on the year so far.
Given the potential rain in the forecast, a near-NFL caliber front-7 may prove impossible for Pittsburgh to penetrate consistently on a soaked field. Even though under-sized offensive lines like the rain, so do confident and massive LBs who can move and stuff the run. Junior Clemson defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell ranks 8th nationally with 10.5 sacks on the year.
However, it will also be crucial for a frosh-sophomore laden offensive backfield to hold onto the ball when they have it. If Lawrence and Etienne play sound football, they’ll win Saturday night and punch the Tigers’ 4th straight College Football Playoff ticket. For gamblers, it’s just a matter of by how much.
Yes, Pittsburgh has beaten Clemson as recently as 2016. But it’s not likely to happen this time against a defense eager to redeem a sub-par outing on rivalry weekend vs South Carolina:
Clemson entered the matchup ranked No. 2 nationally in total defense, allowing 254 yards per game, but the Gamecocks put up 600 yards against the Tigers, which is the fifth-most Clemson has ever allowed in a game. The Tigers had not allowed 600 total yards in a game since 2012 against Florida State. “I thought they kept letting guys get inside. It’s not real complicated,” Venables said. “We had a couple of busts where guys were wide open, guys, they didn’t get the signal and stuff like that. None of it sounds any good or is worth a dang. We can’t do those types of things.”
South Carolina senior Deebo Samuel had 10 catches for 210 yards and three touchdowns, while Shi Smith caught nine passes for 109 yards and a score. The Gamecocks hurt Clemson with tempo as the Tigers had a hard time getting set, leading to busts. USC had four touchdown passes of 20 yards or more, including a 75-yard touchdown by Samuel and a 67-yard touchdown by tight end Kiel Pollard. “It was painful,” Venables said.
While Venables was not pleased with his unit’s performance against South Carolina, he is confident the Tigers can fix their mistakes. Clemson plays Pitt this week in the ACC Championship Game with an opportunity to advance to the College Football Playoff with a victory. The Tigers have reached the College Football Playoff each of the previous three years. “I do believe that we’re better than that. I know we are. We’ve got 12 games of proof. I think that was a small sample tonight, but again, some things that you can’t ignore, without question. We’ve got some work to do no question fundamentally and whatnot,” Venables said. “But I have no doubt our guys will come back and respond.”
Meanwhile, a 24-3 thumping to Miami last week was not exactly a building-moment for Pitt entering the ACC title against the conference’s juggernaut. The Panthers managed to do just enough to come out of the ACC Coastal division in which no team garnered more than 7 total wins this season.
It’s intriguing to think about what a run-heavy team could do against Clemson in a monsoon. The Panthers have relied solely on a 2-headed running attack featuring seniors Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall. The explosive pair has busted defenses open all year, combining for 2,069 yards with each a 75+ yard score
But you’ve got to stop the run too. The Panther rush defense has been one of the horrible all season as the unit ranks 80th in the country vs rushing offense.
Pitt could theoretically control the ball for 35+ minutes and shorten the game. But if nothing else, USC served-up a fast and balanced offense for Clemson to deal with. Pitt only has its running backs. The weather is a wild card, but the Panthers have a very small margin-of-error even to compete and make it a ballgame.
It feels like the Tigers will rebound and romp. The possibility of fumbles for both sides is a plus for Clemson to cover, since the favorites can defend a short field while the underdogs probably can’t.
Take Clemson to win by 4+ touchdowns and cover on Saturday.