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Suddenly facing a must-win situation to keep their national championship hopes alive, the Clemson Tigers take on the Pitt Panthers, one of the few teams to beat the perrenial powerhouse in recent years. At home, the Tigers are 24-point favorites over the Panthers with an over/under of 55 points.
This will be Clemson’s first game since their loss to Notre Dame after last week’s date with Florida State was called off due to COVID concerns. The Tigers are still ranked no. 3 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings, so they are in great shape, but a second loss would likely knock them out of the CFP picture and could cost them a chance at redemption against the Fighting Irish in the ACC Championship Game.
As for Pitt, the Panthers are trying to finish an up and down season with a winning record. A 3-0 start for Pitt was spoiled by a four-game losing streak. However, the Panthers have bounced back with lopsided wins over Florida State and Virginia Tech to get to 5-4 on the season, giving them plenty of confidence heading into their trip to Death Valley.
Leader of the Pack
Part of the reason for Pitt’s four-game losing streak was the injury to starting quarterback Kenny Pickett. The Panthers went nowhere offensively while he was out because they haven’t been effective running the ball, which has not been the case in past years. However, the Pitt offense has gotten back on track over the last two games, with Pickett back on the field, scoring a total of 88 points in the two wins over fellow ACC foes in the Seminoles and Hokies.
Likewise, the Pitt defense has improved in recent weeks now that the offense isn’t putting them in poor field positions following unsuccessful drives. Even in some of the team’s losses, the Panthers have been solid defensively, just not quite good enough to overcome a struggling offense. In fact, Notre Dame is the only team to score more than 31 points against Pitt this year.
With the return of Trevor Lawrence, the Clemson offense will be at full strength this weekend for the first time in over a month. To his credit, freshman D.J. Uiagalelei did a fine job of filling in for Lawrence during his absence. The loss to Notre Dame can hardly be blamed on him. However, the Tigers need Lawrence back because opposing defenses are starting to stack the box against Travis Etienne. He struggled against Notre Dame and is averaging just 60.5 yards per game over his last four games.
Despite Lawrence’s absence and Etienne’s struggles, the biggest question facing Clemson right now might be on defense. The Tigers gave up over 500 yards of offense in the loss to Notre Dame, which is a rare occurrence for the Clemson defense. Some of the youth on that side of the ball started to show, and the Tigers will need to have a strong response against another veteran quarterback.
Like Old Times
Any questions about Clemson’s demise will surely be exaggerated. The Panthers are good enough defensively to avoid getting run off the field in the first half. But a 24-point spread is more than reasonable for a team with Clemson’s offensive firepower. Bet on the Tigers to win and cover against Pitt.