The Pitt Panthers and the 2nd ranked Clemson Tigers arrive at the 2018 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Championship game from opposite directions.
Pitt (7-5, 6-2 ACC) winners of the Coastal Division are truly the surprise of the Conference as they were picked by many media outlets to finish 4th in the division and having one of the toughest schedules in the country after having faced ranked opponents Notre Dame, UCF, Penn State and Syracuse, with their only victory coming against the Orange in overtime.
Meanwhile, the Tigers (12-0, 8-0 ACC) are the defending Conference Champions and are in their 6th Title game in school history. The Tigers have won the last three ACC titles (2015-17), advancing to the College Football Playoff following each of those triumphs. Clemson is 4-1 overall in the ACC title game.
Pitt and Clemson have played on two prior occasions with the Panthers winning each time. In 2016, Pitt defeated Clemson in Death Valley, 43-42, handing the eventual national champion Tigers their only loss during a 14-1 campaign. The teams also met in the 1977 Gator Bowl, a 34-3 Pitt victory in Jacksonville, Fla.
What really benefited the Panthers in their losses to Notre Dame, UCF and Penn State that they were non-conference opponents. After losing to the Fighting Irish, the Panthers only had one loss in the Conference (North Carolina) and then closed the regular season with five wins in their final seven contests en route to Charlotte. Their second Conference loss was in the regular-season finale vs. Miami.
“First of all, it’s obvious I guess time to talk about this Coastal championship that we were able to accomplish this year.” Said Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi “It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to take Pittsburgh to the championship game and take on such a great football team and a great coach in Dabo Swinney, the Clemson Tigers. We know it will be a heck of a football game. We know we’re playing one heck of a football team in Clemson.”
Narduzzi is 2-0 as a head coach against teams ranked No. 2. In addition to the Clemson victory (ranked No. 3/2) in 2016, the Panthers defeated No. 2/2 Miami, 24-14, to close the 2017 regular season.
“It will be our first trip there. Clemson has obviously been there before.” This will be nothing new to them. I think it’s going to be important for our football team to obviously stay focused and locked into why we’re there, what our job is. It’s truly an honor to be there and represent the Coastal Division.”
Pitt’s strengths are it’s running game led by Seniors Qadree Ollison (1,134 yards 11 TD) and Darrin Hall (935 yards, 9 TD) Sophomore QB Kenny Pickett (1,825 yards, 12 TD) provided stability to the offense in his first full season. As a team, they are 16th in the nation in rushing.
On defense, the Panthers made some improvements in 2018, especially at rushing the quarterback as the produced 28 sacks, led by Sophomore DE Rashad Weaver’s 5.5.
“Well, just really proud of our team and our staff. I mean, we really have had a historic season, not just a great season.” Said Swinney. “This has been a lot of first-time-ever in this season. I’m just really proud of our team, these seniors especially. To be 12-0 is an amazing accomplishment. For us to be the first team to win four division championships, for us coming off our fifth state championship, great accomplishments. We’re excited about representing the Atlantic in the ACC with an opportunity to be the first team to win four championship games in a row.”
The Tigers are a well-balanced team led by QB Trevor Lawrence on offense (2,488 yards, 22 TDs) and RB Travis Etienne (1,318 yards, 19 TDs) and WR Tee Higgins (766 yards, 9 TDs) on defense, they sacked the QB 43 times led by DE’s Clelin Ferrell (15.5), Christian Wilkins (13.0) and Austin Bryant (10.5) as a team, they are 8th in the nation in Total Defense.
“It’s been a fun year, it’s been a fast year.” Said Swinney “Probably the fastest season I’ve been around. Seems that way anyway. But we’re excited about it. Look forward to a great night in Charlotte. Charlotte always does such a great job of hosting this event. Look forward to being a part of it. So, we’re excited about playing Pitt, for sure. I mean, ironically our seniors, their only home loss was against Pitt in their career. They went 27-1 at home. I know they’re excited to have a chance to play Pittsburgh in their last-ever ACC game, to be able to battle it out for the ACC championship. I know it’s something our team is excited about.”
The ACC Championship Game is Saturday evening at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina at 8 pm.
Notes: Pitt is 1-1 in games played in Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium. Both contests were bowl games. The Panthers defeated North Carolina, 19-17, in the 2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl and lost to Virginia, 23-16, in the 2003 Continental Tire Bowl. When unranked, Pitt has won four consecutive games against top-3 teams dating back to the 2002 season. Pitt will face half of the top four teams in this week’s major polls. In addition to Saturday’s title tilt with No. 2 Clemson, the Panthers on Oct. 13 played at Notre Dame (ranked No. 3 this week), falling on a late touchdown pass, 19-14.
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