On a rainy night, Clemson returned to Charlotte for the ACC Championship game against Pittsburgh after a decisive win over South Carolina last week. The Georgia-Alabama SEC Championship game lived up to expectations and Oklahoma triumphed over Texas, so there were no major upsets and Clemson wanted to keep it that way.
Pitt won the toss and deferred. Clemson started at the 25 after the kickoff went out of the end zone. Travis Etienne did what he is a threat to do every time he has the ball in his hands. He took the handoff and went 75 yards for the score. Thirteen seconds in, the Tigers led 7-0. B.T. Potter put the ensuing kickoff into the end zone and Pitt started at the 25. The Clemson defense came onto the field and completely smothered the Panther offense, with Big Dex getting a 3rd down sack. Pitt punted and Amari Rodgers returned it to the Clemson 40.
Tavien Feaster took the 1st down handoff up the middle for 3 yards. On 2nd down, Trevor Lawrence dropped a sideline throw right into the hands of Tee Higgins but he couldn’t hang onto it. On 3rd down, Lawrence hit Trevion Thompson for a short gain, but it wasn’t enough enough. Will Spiers then did, I don’t know, something that was supposed to be a punt, but it looked like nothing of the sort as it hit the long snapper in the back as he was running down the field. Pitt took over and lost 4 yards on 1st down and then committed a false start to bring up 2nd & 19. They then committed a delay of game penalty. Success is hard to come by when you have 2nd & 24 against the Tigers. They took a timeout to see if they could pull it together. They had another false start. They finally got a play off and got a yard. Isaiah Simmons got to Pitt QB Kenny Pickett and knocked the ball loose. Christian Wilkins caught it in the air and took it down to the Panther 3 yard line. Etienne then took it up the middle for the score. Clemson led 14-0 with just under 10 minutes left in the 1st quarter. I got the distinct feeling that the Tiger defense had come out to make a statement after getting shredded last week by the Gamecocks.
Pitt took the short kickoff and had a decent return but got called for a holding penalty. Clemson’s defense continued feasting and the Panthers couldn’t gain more than a yard. They punted and Rodgers took the fair catch at the Tiger 43. On 2nd down, Lawrence dropped it right into Justyn Ross’ hands down to the Panther 25. On 3rd & 12, Feaster got loose up the middle on a nicely executed trap play and picked up 9. On 4th down Lawrence threw the ball behind Derion Kendrick on a slant and Pitt took over on downs. Back to back long runs moved the ball down to the Tiger 45. The Tigers forced a 3rd & 5 and the Pitt back took it down to the 20. Clemson took a timeout to see if they could figure out how to stunt Pitt’s momentum. They got the Panthers to 3rd & 10 and a throw to the end zone fell incomplete. Pitt settled for a FG to make it 14-3.
The Tigers started at the 25 and only picked up 2 yards on the first two downs. On 3rd & 8, the Panthers got pressure on Lawrence and the pass to Rodgers fell incomplete. Spiers punted it to the Panther 36. On 3rd & 9, LB Tre Lamar almost got to Pickett, but he scrambled for 10 to move the chains. The Tigers forced another 3rd down and Pickett scrambled again, but this time he couldn’t pick up enough yardage and the Panthers punted and downed it at the Tiger 1 yard line.
Etienne picked up 5 to give the offense a little breathing room, but he was stuffed on 2nd down to bring up 3rd & 5. Lawrence tried to hit Ross down the sideline but the Pitt defender got away with what looked like pass interference to me. Spiers scooped up a low snap and got it away. Pitt took over at the Tiger 39. After getting a 1st down, Pitt RB Qadree Ollison got loose on an outside run and took it down to the Tiger 2 for 1st & goal. Clemson had too many players on the field, making it 1st & goal from the 1. The Clemson defense stuffed the first run, but on 2nd down Pitt punched it in. After looking like a blowout at the beginning, it was suddenly a game. Clemson led 14-10.
Clemson started at the 25. On 1st down, Etienne appeared to be stopped in the backfield but he kept his legs moving and turned it into a 45-yard gain to the Pitt 30. Feaster then moved it to the Pitt 21. A couple of Etienne runs put the ball on the 14. Feaster picked up 5 yards down to the 10 to set up 3rd & 3. Running hard, he picked up 5 to get the 1st down. Lawrence lobbed one up in the end zone for Higgins and he came down with it for the score. The Tigers were up 21-10.
Pitt returned the kickoff to the 19 with just under 5 minutes in the half. The Tigers stuffed the run on the first two plays and on 3rd & 9, the pass fell incomplete. Pitt got a good punt off and the Tigers committed a holding penalty, so the offense started at the 14. Adam Choice picked up 7 yards up the middle on 1st down. He picked up a one more on 2nd to set up 3rd & 2. Etienne took it out to the 29 for the 1st down. The Tigers got to 3rd & 9 and Lawrence hit Thompson just short of the 1st down marker, so the Tigers punted. The punt went into the end zone and Pitt got the ball at the 20 with 1:03 left in the half. A few plays in, A.J. Terrell picked of Pickett and returned it to the Panther 10. Lawrence then hit Higgins on a slant for the score with 25 seconds left. Clemson led 28-10 going into halftime.
The 2nd half started with Pitt at the 25 yard line but they couldn’t get the play off in time and had to burn a timeout. The Tigers forced 3rd & 4 and Lamar got to Pickett for the sack. Pitt punted and Rodgers returned it to the Tiger 42. Etienne moved it out to the 47 but center Justin Falcinelli committed a snap infraction. Lawrence hit Hunter Renfrow on a screen but the Panthers covered it well to set up 3rd & 13. Lawrence couldn’t connect with Higgins across the middle and the Tigers had to punt. Spiers got off another poor one. Hopefully his lack of production isn’t going to cost the Tigers dearly down the road.
Pitt started at their 31 and moved the ball down the field into Tiger territory. The Tiger defense got the Panthers to 3rd & 11 and Pickett scrambled for 8 yards. On 4th & 3, Pickett found his receiver in the flat but they were called for an illegal shift. Pitt decided to punt and the Tigers took over at their 15. Lawrence hit Thompson for 7 on 1st down. On 3rd down, Renfrow picked up the necessary 3 yards for the 1st down. The Tigers faced a 3rd an 9, and Lawrence showed some deft footwork as he scrambled for 16 yards. On the next play, the coverage was good and the pocket collapsed on Lawrence. On 2nd & 16, Etienne picked up 7, bringing up 3rd & 9. Lawrence tried to hit Ross, but the coverage was good and the ball fell incomplete. Pitt returned the punt to their 30.
Pitt couldn’t do much. On 3rd & 6, X-Man Xavier Thomas dropped into pass coverage and destroyed a Pitt back on a flare pass. Pitt punted and Rodgers fielded it at the Tiger 31. Lawrence hit Higgins on a post down to the Panther 48. Lawrence took off for 8 yards. The Tigers then ran a flea-flicker and Lawrence hit Ross for 39 yards down to the 3 as the 3rd quarter expired. Two runs by Choice led to another score. The Tigers were up with 35-10.
Penalties and a smothering Tiger defense put Pitt at 3rd & 26. They tried to run up the middle and got nothing. The punt bounced out of bounds at the Pitt 43. The Tigers didn’t do much, with Falcinelli committing another snap infraction. They punted and T.J. Chase was called for interference on the fair catch and the Panthers got the ball at the 26.
Against Tiger reserves, Pitt RB Darrin Hall got loose for 29 yards. The Tiger then made a stop on 3rd & 1. Pitt went for it on 4th down and barely converted. The Tigers forced 3rd & 5 and stuffed the run. On 4th down, Pickett dropped the snap and Clemson took over at their 35.
Chase Brice came in at QB with about 6 minutes left. On 2nd down, Choice took off up the middle for 31 yards. On 2nd & 7 Brice kept it on an option and almost got to the end zone, getting tackled at the 4. Lyn-J Dixon bounced it outside and took it in on the next play. Clemson led 42-10 with 3:17 left. Pitt returned the kickoff to the 18. The Tiger reserves held the Panthers and forced 4th & 8. The Tiger offensive reserves then finished off the clock.
Your Tigers punched their ticket to the College Football playoff with the 42-10 win for their 4th ACC championship in a row. With wins by Alabama and Clemson today, the first two spots in the CFP are pretty much certain to remain as they were. The 3rd spot and certainly the 4th spot will probably see a bit of debate by the committee. Check back with us at STS over the next few days for reviews of tonight’s game and discussion of what awaits Clemson in the CFP. After today’s games, what’s your opinion of what the CFP matchups should be? Let us know in the comments below.