WHAT WE ARE HEARING: PREVIEW & PREDICTION FOR NO.3 CLEMSON vs. PITT
- 2020-11-28 15:04:06
Welcome to the Senior Day edition of What We Are Hearing!
Well, as if 2020 couldn’t get any whackier….it’s been 3 weeks since the Tigers lost that triple-overtime heartbreaker at Notre Dame and over a month since Trevor Lawrence has played a game! Talk about a long time for the Tigers to get that bad taste out of their mouths. It sure would have been nice to have held on and won the game, as short-handed as they were, and the No.1 ranking through all this down time. For some reason, the Tigers have rotten luck going into bye weeks in recent years. Their last regular season loss, of course, before Notre Dame was over 3 years ago at Syracuse. The Tigers were missing their starting quarterback in that game as well, plus their starting kicker. Backup kicker Alex Spence missed 2 easy field goals, and the Tigers lost by 3. And that was right before a bye week as well! Then, last year, the Tigers had the scare at UNC right before a bye week, but they were able to stop the game-winning 2-point conversion and escape with a win. It’s weird, though, how they’ve had poor performances and injury-caused losses right before bye weeks over the last few years. Anyway, the silver lining is that the banged up Tigers were able to get healthy. They were missing a ridiculous number of players that were injured before or during the Notre Dame game, and several of those will be back. I’ll get into that in more depth later. For a look back at the Notre Dame, read my recap HERE.
Of course, last week was the FSU debacle, with the game being canceled just 3 hours before kickoff. Dabo was rightfully furious and made his mind known on our conference call the following evening, saying that the FSU administration used COVID as an “excuse to cancel the game.” I agree with Dabo 100 percent. In fact, my immediate response when we got word of the cancelation was the exact same—that FSU wanted to avoid a humiliating home loss like the worst ever they suffered at the hands of the Tigers two years ago. Perhaps most of the players and even the coaches wanted to play, but the decision-makers did not. Like Dabo said, if the reasoning FSU used to cancel the game were used every week, there would have been zero college football games played this season. Someone tests positive last-minute and travels with the team every week, but no one had used that as an excuse to cancel a game until FSU did. And adding to the hypocrisy, Norvell and the FSU administration was embarrassed in late August because they made false statements about how frequently they were testing players, and the players called them out on it! On top of that, Norvell himself contracted COVID during the season and had to miss their rivalry game against Miami. So FSU is clearly not the most vigilant administration in the nation when it comes to medical precautions—certainly not more so than Clemson, whose doctors said it was perfectly safe to play the game. Anyway, it remains to be seen whether the game will be played on the 12th, the week before the ACC Championship Game. Dabo said that he thinks FSU should have forfeit the game, and if they want to play later, they will have to come to Clemson or pay their travel expenses, in excess of $300,000. FSU keeps saying that they hope to reschedule because they received so much criticism and accusations of cowardly wimping out of the game. Now they are trying to save face. In my opinion, though, the ACC is as much to blame as FSU. It was a complete failure of leadership for the conference to allow one institution carte blanche in canceling a game even though the opponent followed all ACC protocols. The ACC should be the final arbiter, look at the facts, and if Clemson followed all ACC protocols to the letter as they say they did, then the ACC should force FSU to play the game or forfeit. Simple as that. The ACC failed. It’s a shame because the players and coaches work so hard to prepare for a game—not to mention the travel—and those who were injured like Mike Jones couldn’t wait to get back on the field. You know Trevor Lawrence was dying to play again, and missing this game also hurt his Heisman campaign. He was the front-runner before missing the Boston College and Notre Dame games through no fault of his own, and then he dropped below other players just because he wasn’t able to play. It makes even less sense that Justin Fields would have passed Trevor since Trevor has played more games than Fields despite missing the last two. But that’s the national media for you: out of sight, out of mind. Trevor could have reminded them how great he is by putting up video game numbers at FSU, and he surely would have, but instead he had to wait yet another week to perform.
Enough of that. Let’s get on to this week’s matchup with Pitt! It’s Senior Day for the Tigers as well as Military Appreciation Day, so it will be a special scene in Death Valley at 3:30 ET. In case you missed it, the game was moved from ESPN to ABC on Thursday night, so adjust your DVR’s! Pitt is peaking at the right time after getting their veteran, future NFL QB Kenny Pickett back from an ankle injury. They lost both game she was out, but since his return, they blew out FSU on the road and crushed VA Tech at home last week. And ironically, of course, Pitt was the last team to beat the Tigers in Death Valley over 4 years ago, and that was on Senior Day as well! The Tigers have won 27 straight home games since, which is the longest active streak in the nation. If the Tigers make it 28, that will match Notre Dame’s longest home win streak! Amazingly, Travis Etienne, Amari Rodgers and the rest of this senior class being honored has never lost a game in Death Valley. Only a handful of redshirt seniors like Nolan Turner, Cornell Powell and Darien Rencher were around for that last-second loss to Pitt in 2016. Thank goodness the Tigers are not ranked No.2 like they were on that fateful day because Pitt has a knack of knocking off No.2 as an unranked underdog. They’ve done it 3 times since 2007, including that win over Clemson in Death Valley! Of course, the CFP Selection Committee released their first rankings on Tuesday night, and the Tigers are ranked No.3 behind Alabama and Notre Dame. In my opinion, they should be No.1 despite the loss to Notre Dame because they were about half strength without Trevor Lawrence and still had a 7-point lead with the ball and 2 minutes left, only to lose in double-overtime! In reality, it proved how strong and deep this Clemson team is, and I am very confident the Tigers would have won by 30 at full strength, just like they did 2 years ago in the Cotton Bowl. At any rate, I wasn’t expecting the committee to rank the Tigers No.1, and I was a little surprised they even ranked them ahead of Ohio State, even though the Buckeyes have played just 4 games. That shows progress! Anyway, on to the matchup….
This is the 125th season of Clemson Football….The Tigers look to win at least 10 games for the 10th straight year under Dabo Swinney, joining Alabama and Florida State as the only programs ever to do so….Clemson is the only program to have won 5 consecutive outright ACC titles and the only program in the nation to win 5 consecutive conference championship games…. At 76-6, Clemson has the best record in the nation since 2015; 3 wins better than Alabama and 11 wins better than Ohio State. Clemson is 3 wins behind Alabama for the most wins since 2011….Clemson has the most wins versus Power Five opponents since 2013; 9 more than Ohio State and 7 more than Alabama….Dabo now has the nation’s best active win percentage at .811. Nick Saban’s is .792. Dabo also holds the best all-time win percentage in ACC games at .830. Bobby Bowden’s was .813. Dabo’s overall .811 win percentage is 7th all-time among head coaches that coached at least 150 games. Urban Meyer’s .854 win percentage is atop that list, followed by Switzer, Osborne, Yost, Neyland and Wilkinson….Only 6 times has a team won 12 or more games in a season against Power Five opponents. Clemson, FSU and LSU are the only programs to have done it, and 4 of the 6 times were by Clemson, which remains the only program ever to win 13 games against Power Five opponents in one season, accomplished in 2018…..Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban are the only head coaches in history to reach No.1 in the AP Poll in 6 consecutive seasons….Clemson has played in the 14th most games (22) as AP No.1….Dabo is 17th all-time for most games (21) coached as AP No.1, passing Jim Tressel, Steve Spurrier and Ara Parseghian. He is one game behind Urban Meyer and Lou Holtz for a tie at 13th on the list….Clemson and Alabama are tied for the most consecutive weeks in the AP Top 10 at 88 weeks, the third-longest streak all-time. Florida has the next-longest active streak at just 17 weeks….Clemson has been ranked in the AP Top 5 for 51 consecutive weeks, by far the longest active streak and third-longest streak all-time. Ohio State had 14 consecutive weeks before their exclusion due to the Big Ten’s season postponement. The next-longest active streak is Alabama at 12 weeks. If Clemson remains in the Top 5 all season, it will pass Miami for the second-longest streak all-time. If the Tigers remain in the Top 5 from now until the ACC Championship next season, they will pass Alabama for the longest such streak all-time….Clemson’s run of 5 straight top-5 finishes is tied for the sixth-longest streak all-time. One more, and the Tigers will tie Oklahoma; two more and they will tie three other schools for the second-longest streak. FSU has the record at 14 straight top-5 finishes under Bobby Bowden….If Clemson finishes in the top 2 of the AP Poll this season, it will join Miami as the only programs to finish in the top 2 in 5 of 6 seasons…..Clemson and Alabama are tied for the most consecutive 12-win seasons (5) since Penn in 1892. One more would move Clemson ahead of Alabama, which won 11 games last season….Clemson has won 27 straight home games dating back to 2016, the longest active streak in the nation. Notre Dame has the second-longest active streak at 23, and its all-time record is 28 straight home wins, which Clemson could tie with its next home win. Only 9 fifth-year seniors on the 120-man Clemson roster have experienced a loss in Death Valley. The Tigers are an FBS-best 46-1 at home since 2014….Before losing at Notre Dame three weeks ago, Clemson had won 39 straight non-bowl games, passing Nebraska and tying Miami for second-most all-time. Oklahoma holds the record at 45….Clemson had won 28 straight games against ACC opponents, tying FSU for the second-most all-time. FSU also holds the record at 29 straight, and the double-overtime loss at one-time ACC member Notre Dame kept Clemson from tying FSU for the record….Clemson had won 50 straight Saturday games before the Notre Dame loss, the longest such streak of all time…..If Clemson makes the College Football Playoff for a sixth consecutive year, it will be the first program ever to do so, and Dabo Swinney will join basketball legend John Wooden as the only coaches in any sport to make a Final Four playoff 6 years in a row….Pitt leads the all-time series with Clemson 2-1, but the Tigers, of course, won the last meeting 42-10 in the 2018 ACC Championship en route to the national title….Travis Etienne is just the 4th player since 2000 with 600 or more rush yards and 450 or more reception yards through his first 8 games and the first since Penn State’s Saquon Barkley…..Trevor Lawrence needs just 3 touchdowns on Saturday to become the 5th player in ACC history with 100 career touchdowns accounted for, joining Tajh Boyd, Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson and Phillip Rivers…..Clemson looks to win 8 of its first 9 games for the 16th time in program history and the 9th time in the last 10 years….
The Panthers are 5-4, but they are peaking at the right time and could easily be a one or two-loss team. Two of their losses were by one point, and the other two were with senior QB Kenny Pickett out. He is a savvy veteran who will be a high NFL draft pick in the spring. You may recall that Pickett made his freshman debut in November of 2017 when unranked Pitt knocked off No.2 Miami. He is an excellent passer and can make all the throws. He’s also an able runner who can pick up first downs with his legs and move around the pocket to extend plays and find open receivers. He had his bad ankle heavily taped last week against VA Tech but looked just fine from a mobility standpoint, and he went 35-52 for 404 yards and 2 touchdowns. He even ran for a touchdown, bad ankle and all. He was only sacked twice by a Hokie team that is top 5 nationally in sacks. Since Offensive Coordinator Mark Whipple took over a couple years ago, Pitt has been a pass-oriented offense, and they certainly are right now.
Pitt was without WR Jordan Addison, one of the ACC’s leading receivers, last week, but they didn’t miss him too much. DJ Turner stepped up with a monster game, grabbing 15 catches for 184 yards and a touchdown. Jaylon Barden also had 5 catches for 65 yards and a score. Jordan Addison made the trip to Clemson, so I expect him to play. He had 11 catches for 127 yards in his last game at FSU. He leads the team with 3 touchdown catches.
In the backfield, Vincent Davis leads the team with 366 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns, but he only averages 3.2 yards per carry. AJ Davis averages 4.7 yards per carry and ran for 80 yards and his first touchdown of the season last week on just 12 carries.
Pitt had to start 3 freshmen on the offensive line last week, and they will probably have to do so again because 3 starters did not make the trip to Clemson due to COVID.
Defense has been the real strength of this Pitt team all season, though. Pat Narduzzi is a defensive head coach, and his teams are always tough on that side of the ball. They have led the nation in sacks and tackles-for-loss all season long and have a couple great pass rushers at defensive end. The Tigers’ offensive line has done a great job protecting the quarterback all season, so that will be a fun matchup to watch. Pitt lost its All-ACC safety Paris Ford, who opted out, but its secondary is still strong.
Finally, Pitt has a solid field goal kicker in Alex Tessman. He is 18-24 on the season and 4-5 over 50 yards, so he has a big leg. Let’s hope he doesn’t have an opportunity for a Blewitt moment!
The Tigers have obviously been chomping at the bit to play for weeks. Mike Jones and Matt Bockhorst were both ready to play at FSU. Jones had missed the previous two games, and Bockhorst went down early at Notre Dame. I asked Dabo on Tuesday if he would confirm that Skalski and Ladson would not be able to play, and Dabo would not confirm that, meaning that one or both COULD play on Saturday. Hopefully, they will have Tyler Davis back as well! Starting safety Lannden Zanders went out early at Notre Dame, and he is listed as “day to day,” so keep an eye on whether he plays. If he’s out, the backups will have to be sharp with Pickett slinging the ball.
This, of course, is not only Military Appreciation Day in Death Valley, but it’s Senior Day, and it will be very emotional for players like Trevor, Travis and Amari, who will likely be running down The Hill for the last time. It will be interesting to keep an eye on what juniors are honored as seniors, and Dabo said that some of the seniors have already made their minds up to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted them by the NCAA this year. Guys like Nolan Turner, Cornell Powell, Darien Rencher and maybe James Skalski could be coming back next year! Some have made up their minds and some have not, but no one has made his decision public at this time.
Be sure and check HERE about two hours before kickoff for a final player availability update!
This is a tough one to call because Pitt is red hot and we’ve never seen the Tigers have 3 weeks between games in the regular season. We’ve seen them lose a regular season game almost as infrequently! However, I have to believe that the defense will play inspired with a chip on their shoulder, and you now Trevor Lawrence wants to put up big numbers in a big way to show everyone that he hasn’t gone anywhere. I also think Travis Etienne wants to redeem himself for giving the opponents points off of his fumbles in the last two games—the last one costing them the game. If the Tigers win the turnover margin and don’t give Pitt points like they did against BC and Notre Dame, it’s going to be a blowout. The question is whether the Tigers will be sharp or will there be some rust from all of the time off. I’m betting on the former. Narduzzi will put 8 or 9 defenders in the box to stop the Tigers’ run game, just like Notre Dame, BC and everyone else has done this season, but Travis will still get his all-purpose yards, and Trevor Lawrence will find Amari, Cornell and his tight ends for lots of passing yards. Hopefully, freshmen EJ Williams and/or Brannon Spector will step up as well with Ngata and possibly Ladson out.
Make it 28 straight in Death Valley, extending the nation’s longest active home win streak. Travis, Amari and the other seniors go out as the first class in Clemson history not to lose a game at home, and the Tigers begin another long set of win streaks. Trevor Lawrence joins 4 legendary ACC quarterbacks in the 100 TD club, and the Tigers roll.
The Prowl toward a 6th consecutive ACC Title, 6th consecutive College Football Playoff, 3rd consecutive National Championship Game and 4th National Title continues…..
CLEMSON 45 Pitt 20
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