2018 ACC Championship – Clemson v. Pittsburgh

Battle for the ACC Championship

As we get ready for the nightcap in what’s been an exceptionally busy day in college football, we have one game left to cover, the ACC Championship. This is game has the biggest favorites of the power five conference championships with undefeated Clemson, against 7-5 Pittsburgh. The only knock on Clemson’s season is their schedule because the ACC has not been terrible this season.

Clemson

Clemson are a very familiar site in the College Football Playoff picture, with 3 appearances and one CFP Championship. They seem very likely to add another to their resume with the committee viewing them very highly, and only a Pittsburgh team standing in their way.

Offense

For yet another season, Clemson’s offense has been extremely prolific having totaled just under 6500 yards on the season. They are averaging a very balanced approach with 3,000 rushing yards and just over 3,400 passing yards. They are averaging 283 yards of passing offense and 256 rushing yards for an average total combined for almost 550 yards of offense per game.

Passing: Clemson’s pass game has averaged just shy of 300 yards of passing offense, with nearly 8.5 yards per attempt. Surprisingly, the Tigers have scored more touchdowns away from home (in two less games). Their completion percentage is marginally higher (~1.5%) on the road, but it shouldn’t be a major contributor to any result. The increase in rushing yards between October and November is reflected by a dip in passing yardage, they’ve remained just as dangerous. They are just doing basically the damage in a few less attempts.

Rushing: Clemson’s rushing attack has been able to move the ball at will so far this season, averaging 6.25 yards per carry away from home (compared to 6.75 at home). Although technically a running back by committee approach, the majority of the damage was done by Travis Etienne who are responsible for almost half of their total touchdowns and half of the rushing yards. The tigers average double (28) the touchdowns at home (albeit in 2 more home games) than what they have scored on the road (14).

November, November a month to remember…

November was a bumper month for the Clemson rushing game pushing their average to just under 300 yards per game, 16 touchdowns, and a 7.5 yards gained per attempt. There aren’t really marked differences between the teams (except for what I already touched on). Much of the total yards difference is based on the nearly 10 less rushing attempts per game they are allowed on the road.

Defense

Passing: The Tigers defense is allowing only about 190 passing yards on the road, and an abysmal 48% completion rate to opposing quarterbacks. It will be interesting to see how the Panthers play this, because they have a nearly 20% higher completion rate on the road (63%). The Tigers aren’t allowing enough passing touchdowns on the year (11) to keep up with their offense. Nor are they particularly good at intercepting the ball (better at home), they just stifle their opponents offense.

Rushing: On the road, the Clemson defense is averaging only 76 yards allowed per game. This is 25 yards per game less than at home. If you’re a Pitt fan you’ve no noticed that Clemson has allowed only 7 rushing touchdowns on the season. That’s where the Panthers are scoring almost 75% of their touchdowns. On the road, the Tigers have allowed only two rushing touchdowns against (in 5 games) and are only allowing 1.8 yards per carry to opposing offenses. Furthermore, the Tigers are averaging nearly 2 forced fumbles per away game.

Pittsburgh

While the best of “what’s left”, that’s not really saying much in the ACC this season. 3 ACC teams missed bowl eligibility completely. More made it because of their non-conference schedule, this is part of why Clemson’s schedule difficulty is in question.

Offense

Passing: The Panther’s passing game has taken a bit of a backseat. They are averaging about 1,000 yards less passing than they are rushing. The Panthers success goes down by nearly a yard and a half per attempt on the road. They do tend, however, to pass more on the road and they actually throw less interceptions on the road. The number of touchdowns are exactly the same regardless of the location. It will be interesting to see how much the Panthers go to the pass game because of the (relative) weakness in Clemson’s pass defense.

Rushing: Pittsburgh’s rushing game is fine as long as they don’t leave home. Their production drops almost 50% across the board: yards per attempt, touchdowns, etc. I think for the Panthers to have a shot at pulling off the upset they need to figure out how to “bring home” the road. All but 2 of their wins have come at home, the two road wins came against over-hyped Virginia and a Wake Forest team that barely made bowl eligibility. I think the panthers really need to get their rushing game going.

Defense

Passing: The Panthers pass defense doesn’t show much difference by location, holding opponents to ~225 passing yards per game. They do allow a slightly higher (4%) completion rate and nearly a yard per attempt more on the road. They allow more touchdowns at home (2 more) and an additional interception (1 more). However, all in all, I think they cancel each other out. There’s a very marginal difference in the number of sacks, they sack opposing QBs about 0.25 more times per game at home.

Rushing: Pittsburgh has some of the biggest defensive splits I have ever seen on their rushing defense. They allow 310 rush yards per game at home, and ~160 on the road. This massive shift is reflected in the number of touchdowns and yards per carry, with a minor difference in carries (~4).

The Game

The game is played at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina with kickoff at 5:00p PST/8:00p EST).

The neutrals are expecting 53 points to be put up on the board and Clemson to come out on top by a ridiculous almost 28 point margin.

Keys to a win for each side

Clemson: 

  • Limit Pitt running game. They are dramatically more effective in the rushing game at home. Clemson needs to ensure that they never get started.
  • Stay balanced. Dabo’s boys do a great job of staying balanced in their play-calling, but they need to continue that here.

Pittsburgh:

  • Runaway with it! Pitt needs to find a way to get their rushing attack involved against the Clemson defense. The Panthers passing game is insufficient to take Clemson down, especially if Clemson can make them one-dimensional. They will have a significantly easier time if they can get into the endzone with their feet.
  • Stonewall Clemson. Pitt has been awesome against the run away from home, they really need that to carry over here.
  • Keep It Simple. They already throw less away from home, but even one could mean game over here. They need to make smart plays and if required — throw the ball away to get to the next down.

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