Tigers turn full attention to Pitt and ACC Championship Game


by - Senior Writer -
Clemson (12-0) faces off against the Panthers (7-5) Saturday night at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
Clemson (12-0) faces off against the Panthers (7-5) Saturday night at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

CLEMSON – Clemson’s attention has turned from the rivalry win over South Carolina to Saturday’s ACC Championship Game against Pitt.

Clemson (12-0) faces off against the Panthers (7-5) Saturday night at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. Kickoff is set for 8 pm and will be broadcast on ABC. During his Tuesday press conference, head coach Dabo Swinney said the fact his team is playing this week means a championship is on the line.

“We're excited about practice this week. That means we're playing for a championship,” Swinney said. “Not many teams are practicing this week. Pitt has had a heck of a year. They've played a very tough schedule. They lost to Notre Dame, UCF and Penn State and then had a shootout against North Carolina and then a loss at Miami. They're a champion just like we're a champion.

"I'm proud of our team. This has been an amazing season. It's probably been the fastest season I have been a part of. I've just enjoyed being with this group every day. These seniors are special. They have had a ton of fun this year. They've been as focused as any group I have ever been around. Our players have embraced their journey and have loved every second of it. I'm just really proud of them. We had 21 guys come out and be honored as all-conference. That's amazing. Mitch Hyatt won the Jacobs Trophy back-to-back. Hopefully, we will get more good news on some of our guys later today.”

Once the game is over, and the bowl destination is announced, the team will get a break before the start of bowl practice.

"It's about finishing strong. We have eight days of class left, and then our guys will get a little break,” Swinney said. “They've been grinding since August 1. They will be excited about getting a break.”

The Panthers won the Coastal Division with a 6-2 conference record but finished the regular season with a loss at Miami. However, Swinney expects the Panthers to be at their best against the Tigers.

"Pittsburgh is a tough, physical football team. It's who they are,” he said. “They are a 21-personnel team, 11-personnel, some 20. They come right at you. It's three runs to every pass. You have to stop them. They have really good players, downhill, tough, hard-nosed runners. They've done a great job of incorporating their receivers into their run game. A lot of formations, shifts, play action. They challenge you. You have to be disciplined and have your eyes on the right things. We have to match their mindset. Their quarterback is a good player. He moves around well and has made some big plays. They're impressive.

"Defensively, they had 13 guys come back who started four or more games last year. Very experienced. They have played a lot of football. They went into Notre Dame and gave them all they wanted. They did a great job in the trenches. They are very well coached. Very seldom are they out of place. They are a force-the-issue defense. Everything is tight coverage; everything is contested. Lots of pressure. They've recruited well to their scheme."

The Tigers are 26-point favorites over the Panthers, but Pitt pulled the upset over Clemson in Death Valley two years ago, and Swinney said he hopes his players are ready for the challenge.

"I hope they're excited about playing them. Our seniors don't have a winning record against them, and I'm sure they remember that one very well,” he said. “We had opportunities to win the game. We played awful on defense. We gave up a bunch of yards that day. Deshaun Watson threw for 580 yards but three interceptions. We had a chance to win, still. We just didn't get it. They outplayed us. But ... that team went on to win the national title. We got better from it. They have six guys on their defense who were in that game. They will be confident, and they should be because they beat us. Our guys will be excited, too."

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