Clemson went into Heinz Field on Saturday after earning the underdog title in an ACC game for the first time since 2016,. The unranked Tigers and the 5-1 Pitt Panthers — No. 23 — did battle for the first time since Pitt’s Memorial Stadium-silencing upset win in 2016.
Kenny Pickett led the way for a Pitt offense playing up to capabilities never seen before (No. 5 in total offense). What lurked from behind was the more standard, usual approach to the program’s recent history of strong defenses (this year No. 20).
On Clemson’s side, QB D.J. Uiagalelei was finally benched after continuing to underwhelm. His sophomore slump saw him throw for 12 completions (with plenty of WR/TE drops) on 25 pass attempts for 128 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions. Yikes.
Alas, Taisun Phommachanh took the field to relieve the pain, and… well, let’s just say it didn’t really make a difference. The Tigers’ futile efforts garnered a small but very consistent scoring total in line with last week’s performance (and nearly all the games before that) of 17. Uiagalelei came back in, but again, nothing new transpired in the waning stages of a 27-17 loss.
Players of the Week
LB James Skalski
With age comes experience, and with experience comes new broken totals. This time, it was everyone’s favorite sixth-year senior — James Skalski — making his mark on Saturday with 16 total tackles against the illustrious Pitt offense, breaking his previous record of 15 set against Georgia. The newest record-slasher made by the elusive linebacker was a diamond in the rough of Clemson’s weakest all-around defensive performance of the 2021 season thus far. Pitt boasted 27 points (admittedly, some of those came off a Uiagalelei pick six) on a unit that DC Brent Venables has expressed disinterest with for a few weeks now.
“I thought our first five drives were excellent, and then on that sixth drive they moved the ball 90 yards down the field in 13 plays,” Venables said after the game. “We’d make a couple of good plays and then we’d lose leverage on the route or just lack the precision that it takes against a good team.”
The defense certainly needs to work on a few recent consistently issues, but Skalski’s high standard remains intact as its model nonetheless.
RB Will Shipley
Perhaps the best image of Saturday’s run game derives from a mixture of good and bad news. The bad news, being that Kobe Pace subsided back into the middle of the depth chart.
The good news, Will Shipley’s much needed return. It wasn’t his most noteworthy showing by any means — his overall total went for 52 yards on ten carries — but rather a notion that post-injury woes will likely cease to exist with the freshman back.
S Jalyn Phillips
Along the span of his first 13 games at Clemson, Jalyn Phillips’ attributions in the stat category qualified as relatively futile in the shadow of his team’s diverse defense. The 6’-foot-1, 205 pound junior registered minimal totals in overall tackles (24) and solo tackles (16).
And yet, a glow up on Saturday of nine and five in those respective categories gave the safety his career high performance. Phillip’s showing comes in lieu of one of his position group’s teammates — Tyler Venables — career high as well.
Pitt Panthers Player of the Week: QB Kenny Pickett
Is Pitt a real playoff contender?
Probably not. The Panthers dropped a game to a MAC team (Western Michigan), but Kenny Pickett and company are quickly looking like the favorite to garner an ACC title and New Year’s Six Bowl appearance (Sorry Wake Forest, you’re not there quite yet).
Pickett, who enters his final season in the Steel City, has thrown for 2,200 yards (9th highest in FBS), 23 touchdowns (Tied-4th) and only one interception (Tied-2nd). Against Clemson, he captured 25 completions on 39 passes for a yardage total of 302 and two scores. The New Jersey native’s rising Heisman odds (+1400) have risen significantly thanks to a string of clutch performances and remain the highest in the ACC.
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