By Richard Hefner
Editor’s Note: We are on a compressed holiday schedule this week, so had to delay this until today. Feel free to tee off on a prediction after digesting Richard’s always-thorough analysis. -Michaelangelo
Pitt is coming off their second straight 40+ scoring effort. Who would have thunk it? The 47 – 14 victory over Virginia Tech puts Pitt’s record at 5–4 (4-4 in conference). Pitt fans where happy to see another relaxing win. My worry stopped after the early 3’rd quarter goal line stand and the following 99+ yard TD drive. The rest of the game was gravy.
Pitt’s next opponent is 7-1 (6-1 in conference) Clemson. They are coming off a Covid inspired bye week and game postponement after Clemson was already in Tallahassee. As I am typing this, I am watching a TV interview with Clemson’s head coach Dabo Swinney. Dabo is accusing FSU of not wanting to play and that the FSU is using Covid as an excuse. Dabo is demanding that FSU cough up $300k to reimburse Clemson for the cost of the trip (and upgraded hotel accommodations on a recommendation from Pat Narduzzi) if they want to reschedule. (Dabo did say that they had a team meeting in a “Circus” tent prior to game
postponement. Cancellation, FSU forfeit.)
The scheduled kickoff time is Saturday at 3:30pm on ABC (was previously ESPN).
We all know the rise of Clemson under HCDS. Hired midway thru the 2008 to replace the departing Tommy Bowden, he won the 2008 rivalry game with the Gamecocks. He then promptly lost 5 straight to Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina squads. By 2013, the ACC started to change. Pitt and Syracuse joined the ACC. In 2014 Clemson finally won a rivalry game against U of SC and has not tasted the bitterness of a rivalry game loss since.
But the huge step up for Clemson began in 2015. For the time period 2015-19, Clemson has won both the Atlantic division and the ACC championship 5 straight years with an overall ACC record (including C/C) of 43-2. Those two losses were dealt by the ACC newest members (excluding the 2020 interloper Notre Dame) Pitt in 2016 and Syracuse 2017.
Clemson has also been a CFP team since 2015 winning the NCG twice. The ACC, wanting a 3’rd NC team, made sure Pitt was on Clemson’s schedule. It is Pitt that guarantees Clemson another NC victory. Pitt is the only team that Clemson played in regular or C/C games in the years they won the NC that they did not play in non-winning years. Iron sharpens iron (but so does a sharpening stone).
Obviously, Clemson is good. Recruiting has a whole lot to do with it. In the all- important Rivals 5.7 and above, Clemson has 82 of 104 recruits meeting that metric over the 2016-2020 recruiting cycles. That is 78.8% of all recruits. Pitt is at 31.4% (33 of 105) in the same time frame. In fact, Clemson has recruited 39 5-stars & 6.0/5.9 4-stars or more than Pitts 33 5.7 and above.
Clemson has not claimed anyone off the transfer portal. They did lose a top rated 2020 5-star RB recruit to the portal & Florida in October.
He choose Clemson over Florida so that his Atlanta area grandfather could watch him play. Once his grandfather passed away, he portaled to Florida.
Any preseason Stars to watch? You would expect there are and there is.
17 names covering 19 different positions. One (WR Justyn Ross) is out for the season. 5 were preseason All ACC picks. 9 on offense & 8 on defense.
It looks like Clemson has the punt/kick returner position covered. Both the punter or kicker are average or Clemson scores TD’s and have no use for either. I think they score TD’s.
In past articles I talked a little about the players on the Stars list. There is too many of them to discuss.
I do want to make a comment about the depth of Clemson. It could have been back in 2018 when Clemson beat Alabama by 28, Nick Sabin was throwing out excuses why Alabama lost. One of the excuses was the players got tired. Dabo later responded by saying Clemson plays an average of 70+ players a game. Alabama plays in the low 50’s. My take was that Clemson rotates their line up so that even the third player on a depth chart gets playing time and contributes. And everyone is rested during a game. Badly worded but I hope you catch my meaning or get my drift.
QB’s- they are the heart of any offense. Does Clemson have a good one? You bet they do plus a 2’nd and 3’rd. Here are Clemson’s top two QB’s vs, Pitt’s.
QB NCAA rankings are based on 112 ranked QB’s. Minimum requirements are playing in 75% of a team’s games played plus at least 15 passing attempts per games played.
If I interpret the NCAA requirements to be a ranked, D.J. Uiagalelei is one pass attempt away from being #34 in passing efficiency. Sorry, but I have to admit Clemson’s QB’s are better. I left off the stats without OOC. Both teams played FCS. Clemson played The Citadel. Speaking of The Citadel, it was two years ago Thanksgiving weekend that my high school freshman grandson committed to The Citadel for baseball.
Who does the QB hand off to on running plays? Here are Clemson leading rushers.
They are not bad but are only ranked #74 in rushing. Travis Etienne is the bell cow. Preseason All ACC. 1’st team All ACC in both 2019 & 2018. Obviously better than any RB Pitt has. But in my opinion, I would have to go with Khalil Herbert of VT as being the better back in the 2020 ACC season. Better rushing average & means so much more to VT’s offense. In past articles, most teams had at most 10 players carry the ball. Clemson has 14 – depth and game experience. Also notice no WR’s as leading rushers. Jet sweeps do not seem to be a part of Clemson’s repertoire.
Who are the receivers that catch those passes thrown by the Clemson QB’s?
I listed the top 7 receivers. 13 others had at least one catch. Amari Rogers is the go-to receiver. Etienne did not go pro last year. I wonder if he was told to work on his receiving game. Dabo is happy to oblige. I almost forgot the TE’s They are just not blockers.
How about the Oline? Are they good at protecting the QB & opening holes?
From the data below, they are better than Pitt’s Oline.
Put all this data together and you end up with a comparison of offensive stats.
All of the above does not relieve my trepidations. Maybe looking at some defensive stats will make me feel better.
This makes me feel a little better. At least, Pitt is in the same ballpark with Clemson. Pitt is better at stopping the run. Clemson is better in pass defense. Both are very good at playing defense.
Both of the ACC preseason selections (DE Tyler and CB Kendrick) have been injured most of the year. LB Skalski has missed the last few games. It will be Pitt’s luck to have these “Stars” return to action. Probably does not matter as I cannot remember if I mentioned that Clemson has depth and pretty good back-up experience.
Maybe Clemson cannot pressure the QB. Maybe they celebrate TD’s and turnovers to exuberantly. It is time for sacks, TFL’s, penalties and turnover margin.
Nothing there that changes my mind on the outcome. Pitt will shut down the Clemson rushing attack. It did against Virginia Tech and the interloper Notre Dame. Both are still highly ranked in rushing. The problem – Clemson’s passing attack. I fear that Pitt’s defensive line will not be able to pressure #1 QB pro prospect Trevor Lawrence. That will allow Clemson to ride his arm to victory. Kenny Pickett will fare better against Clemson than Joey Yellen did against Notre Dame. But Pitt’s rushing attack will revert to pre-FSU and Virginia Tech no matter who plays on the Pitt Oline.
I am calling it Clemson 48 – Pitt 24