This weekend we get a special treat with a new ACC opponent. The Pittsburgh Panthers will come to Clemson for the first time since joining the conference. Hopefully we’ll see a good number of their faithful in Clemson experiencing gameday in TigerTown. Once again, just one aspect of our preview focuses on the recruited talent on each team. Here it goes.
We've divided the offense and the defense into three portions each. For the offense, the starting QB, the starting O-line, and the 2-deep for the remaining skill positions (WR, TE, RB) are each weighted to represent one-third of the overall offense rating. Similarly on defense, the 2-deep at D-line, linebacker, and in the secondary are each weighted to represent one-third of the overall defense rating regardless of scheme.
This shouldn’t have to be said, but there are always players who over-perform their original star rating (e.g., Hunter Renfrow, Lamar Jackson) and as well as those who underperform their star ratings. As such, this is only one portion of the analysis we will publish on the upcoming game, but we hope this is an informative one.
As we look at each team’s offense, we see Pittsburgh looks a lot like some of the other ACC teams we’ve analyzed, but with one very notable difference.
Clemson has two obvious advantages. At QB, Deshaun Watson has 691 more passing yards (as well as 10 more TDs and 6 more INTs) than Nathan Peterman. He’s obviously a game changer and a big advantage for the Tigers. He also has a tremendous advantage at the skill positions. Deon Cain and Mike Williams were 5-star and 4-star recruits, respectively. We saw Virginia Tech pick on the Pitt secondary with their two elite pass catchers (Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges). Meanwhile Pittsburgh doesn’t boast any 4 or 5-star skill position players.
The area where we see Pittsburgh dramatically outperform teams like NC State and Syracuse that we’ve already analyzed is on the offensive line. Surprisingly, the Panthers boast three 4-star offensive lineman. It’s a veteran group too! The Panthers are tied for second in the nation for fewest sacks allowed with just six! Clemson is very respectable at 16th (quite good when you consider how pass-heavy our offense has been), but they’ve allowed 11 sacks, nearly double Pittsburgh. For that reason, Clemson’s elite D-line going up against Pittsburgh’s elite(?) O-line is the matchup to watch. If Clemson can dominate here, I’ll feel more confident about battling opponents like Michigan in potential playoff matchups.
So we’ll get to see Dexter Lawrence, Scott Pagano and the other big boys get a real battle. What else are looking at with these defenses?
It’s no contest here and that’s why it’s going to be really hard Pittsburgh to actually win this game, barring a turnover fest from Clemson.
Clemson is 8th in scoring defense (15.7 points per game allowed) while Pitt is 107th with 34.4 points allowed per game. They both can get to the QB, Clemson is 4th nationally with 33 sacks while Pittsburgh is 9th with 29 sacks, but the Tigers have far fewer breakdowns when they fail to get there.
Due to the vast difference in these two defenses, the Tigers have a big upper hand. While Pittsburgh has proven dangerous nearly beating Oklahoma State and UNC, they’ll need the Tigers to play less than their “A” game. If Watson is “locked in” as he was early against Syracuse, their defense simply doesn’t have the horses to win this game. The Panthers have a top 15 win under their belt, defeating Penn State early in the season, so they shouldn’t be taken lightly, but if Clemson plays to their standard this should be a comfortable win. Keep an eye on Clemson’s defensive line going up against a very good Pitt O-line. If Clemson is winning that matchup “big league” then we may be in for some postseason fun.