My Take: Pitt at Clemson

What’s up everybody!?

Chris here with something new that I hope can continue on… More blogs.

Since we’ve adjusted our recording strategy a bit, it should hopefully free up more time to blog about things. And since we didn’t record a Pitt-Clemson preview this week, I figured I might as well take advantage and write out some random thoughts on the game.

Let’s break it down kind of how we normally do in our preview episodes…

General Thoughts

This is a huge opportunity for Pitt. I’m not going to act like it’s likely that Pitt wins, but this game presents an opportunity to get back on the winning track and do so with what I assume many would call Pat Narduzzi’s first “signature win” at Pitt.

I don’t necessarily agree with that. First off, I think that term is super subjective. And second, if we wanna label things, the Penn State game was a signature win. It was big for the program, came against our rival, and that team is now in the top 10 (which is crazy, but it is what it is).

Nevertheless, a huge upset win would probably change the attitudes of many fans that are upset right now. It could be a win that captures the attention of recruits. It could also give Pitt one win in its last three games, which seemed like what most people were hoping for when we headed into this stretch of Virginia Tech, Miami, and Clemson back-to-back-to-back.

These two teams clearly come into this one on different wavelengths. Clemson is undefeated and barreling toward another playoff appearance. Pitt is reeling after two losses, the most recent of which was the team’s worst performance this season.

That said, I wouldn’t be shocked in the least if this Clemson team suffers for at least a quarter or two in a “trap game” or “overlooking the opponent” or what have you. The Tigers are in a bit of a lull in their schedule with not many high-profile opponents. They blew out Syracuse last week and are probably feeling pretty comfortable right now with another home game ahead of them. Nearly a handful of Clemson players just announced they’re going pro after the season, too.

I wouldn’t be shocked in the least if Clemson was looking past this game a little bit. If they are, that could (stress, could) present an opportunity for Pitt.

Offense

I expect Pitt’s offense to rebound in a big way this week. They’re facing an extremely strong defense in Clemson. However, I don’t expect the Panthers to struggle so mightily with basic principles of the offense, pre-snap penalties, etc. I think the offense will be back to its old self, and I think it will put up points.

How many? Well, we’ll see.

Clemson allows over 130 yards rushing to opponents this season. Not bad by any means, but it shows there are windows of opportunity. Pitt has multiple ways to attack a defense — on the edges with Quadree Henderson, up the middle with James Conner, speed inside the tackles with Chawntez Moss or Darrin Hall, misdirection with George Aston — so I think the offense will at least be able to move the ball. The offensive line is good enough.

They’ll need to, because Clemson boasts the 11th best pass defense in the country.

Pitt will have to limit mistakes. Pitt can’t afford to turn the ball over AT ALL.

If the offense can achieve that, they’ll give themselves a chance.

Defense

This is the big area of concern for most folks, and rightfully so. Pitt’s pass defense has been bad this year, and they’re going up against a Heisman contender in Deshaun Watson. Doesn’t seem like there’s much hope, huh?

Well, there might be a glimmer.

Clemson has not protected the ball well this year. Watson has been uncharacteristically wild, and is apparently dealing with some shoulder discomfort. He’s good for throwing a few errant passes a game. Will Pitt be able to take advantage of those? We can only hope.

The Tigers thrive on big passing plays to drive their offense. They’ll surely be going for it against Pitt’s secondary. Can Damar Hamlin grow up quick? This is certainly a tough spot for such a young player to be in.

Can Jordan Whitehead rise to the task? Will the free safeties make the correct reads and provide support?

Hopefully it all comes together, or at least improves from past performances.

Special Teams

Two things here: Quadree Henderson and defense.

The big plays, the ones that flip the field or completely eliminate a possession… Those are the ones that seem to make or break things for Pitt.

Henderson can go to the house at any moment. Pitt has also showed they can give up similar big returns. You can’t afford to give Clemson free points in the return game. You also can’t afford to give away offensive possessions by fumbling the ball in your own return game.

Pitt gave away a possession against Va Tech with a special teams fumble. It let games against Marshall and Georgia Tech go down to the wire because of allowing an onside kick and kickoff return for touchdown, respectively.

Pitt has the ability to make a splash play here. If it has the ability to prevent negative ones, well then again there might be a glimmer of hope.

Conclusion

What everything I just typed up concludes to is that Pitt has to play as perfectly as it possibly can. I’m not going to expect the pass defense to shut Clemson down. That’s insanity. But can they force some punts or hold for field goals? That’s possible.

Look at the Virginia Tech and Miami games. Va Tech settled for field goal after field goal in the first half. It just unfortunately took the offense too long to get going.

In Miami, Pitt stopped the Hurricanes on five or six drives in a row. The offense was just all out of sorts.

If the defense can do those things and the offense can be as dominant as we know it can be, Pitt has a chance. If special teams can make a positive impact, that chance looks a little better.

Will I predict a Pitt win?

No.

But I was at 13-9 the last time Pitt was a 20-point underdog on the road in November. I’m smart enough to know that it’s not impossible.

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