The Clemson Tigers return to the field Saturday (3:30 pm, ESPN), as they travel to take on the Pittsburgh Panthers in their first-ever trip to Heinz Field.
Saturday’s matchup will feature two of college football’s marquee units. Clemson enters the contest ranked second in the nation in scoring defense, allowing an average of only 12.5 points per game and trailing only the nation’s top-ranked team — No. 1 Georgia — in that category. Pitt, meanwhile, enters the game ranked third in the nation in scoring offense at 48.3 points per game. The Panthers are one of only four teams in the nation averaging at least 45.0 points per game this season.
“They’re a good team. Their quarterback is special,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “He is a sixth-year guy, smart, efficient, he has 21 touchdowns and one pick. He keeps them out of trouble. He is a true dual-threat guy. They have excellent receivers. That No. 3 is probably the best we have seen all year. They’re top 10 nationally in offense. We will have our hands full with this bunch. Very experienced, confident, group. Pickett is the highest-rated quarterback in college football.”
However, it is not only the Panther offense that has the attention of the Tigers. Pitt is yielding an average of 100.2 rush yards to rank 17th nationally (second in the ACC) this season, and ranks 28th nationally and fourth in the ACC in total defense, surrendering an average of 319.3 yards per contest.
“Defensively, they’re aggressive and in your face,” Swinney said. “They also have a veteran group with a lot of depth. They’re going to challenge you. That No. 8 for them inside is a great player.”
“We will have to play a lot better this week. This is a really good team we are getting ready to play. We will have to play a lot cleaner,” Swinney added.
The Tigers “MASH” unit should get some help this week, as the Tigers were without cornerbacks Fred Davis II (ankle) and Andrew Booth, tight end Braden Galloway, offensive linemen Walker Parks and Will Putnam, running back Will Shipley and defensive tackle Tyler Davis in last week’s win at Syracuse.
“Hoping to get Fred (Davis) back,” Swinney said Monday. “That’s our No. 1 there, and hopefully Booth will be ready to go. We thought he would be ready to go last week but he just didn’t feel confident in where he was. Hopefully he’ll be ready and getting Fred back would be a very big shot in the arm for us because he’s been out two or three weeks with that ankle.
“We’ll get Galloway back this week. He’s been out a couple ballgames. Getting Putnam a full week of practice. Getting Walker a full week of practice — that’s certainly going to help us…And then we’ll see what happens on some of these other guys. We’re working Shipley and Davis and they’re getting closer and closer. Excited about their return here sooner than later.”
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