A week after scraping by Syracuse, Clemson will take part in yet another high-stakes ACC battle. The unbreakable Tigers’ defense will have its toughest test yet, traveling to Pennsylvania to face off against the Pittsburgh Panthers’ top-five scoring offense.
Throughout Clemson’s recent dominance of the ACC, it has been rare to see them as anything other than a heavy favorite during conference play. But for the first time since 2016, the Tigers are viewed as underdogs versus an ACC opponent. In his weekly Tuesday press conference, Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney reiterated the importance of this game.
"Biggest game of the year. If we are going to be the best version of ourselves this year that we can be, this is a game we have to play our best game in for sure, because this will be our biggest challenge to date,” said Swinney.
The Pittsburgh team is led by sixth-year senior Kenny Pickett, who is second among all Power Five quarterbacks with 21 passing touchdowns. The seemingly unstoppable Pittsburgh aerial attack will be a handful for Brent Venables’ defense, but the Clemson defensive coordinator has confidence in his group.
"(Pickett's) a lot like Joe Burrow from experience, calmness, accuracy and can run, makes all the right decisions, having a heck of a year,” said Venables.
“Everyone’s gonna have to play well, you know. You have to get good pressure up front with your pass rush, and play well in coverage.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Clemson running back Kobe Pace will be an important player to watch this weekend. Against Syracuse, he showed an ability to control the game on the ground as he rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown with an efficient 5.4 yards per carry. Following the loss of Will Shipley and Lyn-J Dixon, it was essential that the Clemson running game found some stability.
Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei looks to continue his streak of pocket discipline this week, seeking his third consecutive game without a turnover. Coach Swinney praised Uiagalelei while discussing the Clemson offense.
“That's why I'm so proud of DJ. He struggled early but these past two games, he's really made a big turn. His best game was this past one. We just have to be better around him,” said Swinney.
This game has relatively large implications as both of these teams are vying for a spot in this year’s ACC Championship. These teams also currently exist around the margins of the AP Top-25. Pittsburgh entered the polls this week, while Clemson is fighting to re-emerge as a top-25 team.
So this Saturday afternoon, be sure to tune in to this marquee matchup between two ACC heavyweights.