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Clemson Football

Keys to the Game: ACC Championship

December 1, 2018
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The Atlantic Division champion Clemson Tigers will be in search of another piece of history when the team takes to the field against the Coastal Division champion Pittsburgh Panthers in the 2018 ACC Championship Game.

Kickoff from Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET. A win on Saturday would give Clemson its fourth consecutive ACC title and make the Tigers the first team in the conference's 66-season history to win four consecutive outright titles. Bobby Bowden's Florida State squads earned at least a share of the ACC title in nine straight seasons across the 1992-2000 campaigns but never earned four outright titles in a row.

Clemson would be the first Power Five team to win four consecutive conference title games since Florida rattled off four straight SEC Championship Game wins from 1993-96. Oklahoma can also win four consecutive conference titles, but the Sooners didn’t play in conference championship games in the Big 12 until the league went back to a title game format a year ago.

The Clemson senior class enters the contest with an ACC-record 52 career wins. Featured among that group is defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, who is expected to play in his 57th career game on Saturday, which would tie fullback Chad Diehl (57 from 2007-11) for the most career games played in school history.

Entering this week, Clemson has...

  • Won 55 of its last 59 overall, dating to 2014
  • Won 63 of its last 65 when leading at halftime
  • Gone 84-2 since 2011 when leading after three quarters
  • Gone 36-0 when scoring first since 2015
  • Posted an 85-2 record when recording more first downs than its opponent since 2011

The Match Up:

Clemson (12-0, 8-0) vs. Pitt  (7-5, 6-2)

Clemson vs. Pitt 2016 Highlights:

All-Time Series:

Pitt leads: 0-2
at Clemson:  Pitt leads 0-1
at Pitt: N/A
Neutral: Pitt leads 0-1
Last Meeting: Pitt beat Clemson 43-42 in 2016 in Death Valley
Streak: Pitt has won the only two meetings.

Listen Live: Fox Sports Radio 1400 on iHeart Radio

Stat of the Week:

Pittsburgh is the last ACC team with an active winning streak against Clemson, having beaten the Tigers, 43-42, in 2016. With a win over Pittsburgh, Clemson would end a two-game losing streak to Pitt and have an active winning streak of at least one game against all 13 other ACC institutions.

Key 1: Stop. The. Run.

The offensive stats for Pitt don’t stand out in most categories; The Panthers rank 76th in scoring offense (28 PPG), 120th in passing offense (153.4 YPG) and 80th in total offense (386.1 YPG). 

However, they do boast the 17th ranked rushing offense (232.67 YPG) despite not being able to pose a threat through the air. That’s no easy feat. The Panthers have a pair of running backs in Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall that will try to turn the ACC Championship Game into a limited possession slugfest and ensure this turns into a four-quarter game. 

The Tigers, meanwhile, boast the second-ranked rushing defense in the nation, allowing just 84.75 YPG. In order to pull away from the Panthers, the Tigers will need to bring that rushing defense to Charlotte. 

Key 2: Win third down

Clemson’s defense struggled to get off the field against South Carolina’s offense last week, uncharacteristically allowing third-down conversions on 7 of 14 attempts. That allowed South Carolina to sustain drives and get into the end zone throughout the contest.

Pittsburgh enters the game converting on just about 40-percent of their third-down chances, and getting off the field against a run-heavy team like the Panthers is critical. Pittsburgh ranks 22nd in the nation in time of possession, and they’d love nothing more than to convert some big third downs and keep the Clemson offense off the field. 

Key 3: Keep the offense rolling

While the Tigers struggled a bit on defense against South Carolina, the offense found a different gear. Clemson’s offensive performance was perhaps the best we’ve seen all season.

The Tigers racked up 744 yards of offense, the most in the history of their rivalry with the Gamecocks and the third most in school history. It was a balanced effort, with 393 yards coming through the air and 351 coming on the ground.

Against a Pittsburgh defense which ranks 69th in the total defense, the Tigers need to start fast and keep the momentum on the offensive side of the ball going from last weekend. 

Prediction:

It is hard to believe that Clemson has distanced themselves from the ACC in the manner that we’ve seen in recent years. The Tigers are doing things to the league that is unprecedented, perhaps outside of some of the stats that Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles racked up against the league when they joined back in the early 1990s. 

You have to give a lot of credit to Dabo Swinney and his staff for having the drive and determination to become the standard-bearer in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Swinney took over a rollercoaster park but now owns a Ferrari dealership.

The Pitt Panthers are the only ACC team that defeated these Clemson seniors at Death Valley. In fact, as you learned above, Pitt is the only ACC team with an active winning streak against the Tigers. 

We expect that fact, coupled with better talent and a conference title on the line, the Tigers will give Pitt their full attention and deliver a resounding victory in Charlotte.

Final Score Predictions: 

  Clemson vs Pitt Pick of the Week Season Score
Lawton 49-10 Clemson Furman, Syracuse, Wake Forest, Louisville 20
Sanders 42-13 Clemson

Texas A&M, Georgia Southern

16
Lowell 45-7 Clemson South Carolina 14
Brandon 52-6 Clemson Florida State 15
Simulation  35-13 Clemson Georgia Tech, NC State, Boston College, Duke 19

Perfect Prediction = 5 points              Best Prediction = 3 Points         Correct Prediction = 1 Point 

**Pick of the Week: Indicates the best prediction given for that game.

Keys to the Game: ACC Championship

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