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Struggles Continue for Clemson as Tigers Fall 27-17 at Pitt

Clemson fell on the road at Pitt as the Panthers topped the Tigers 27-17 on Saturday at Heinz Field.

Dabo Swinney finally went to his backup quarterback. It proved to be a futile attempt, though, as Clemson lost 27-17 on the road at Pitt.

The Tigers drop to 4-3 overall and 3-2 in ACC play and are all but eliminated in the race for the Atlantic Division. No. 23 Pitt improves to 5-1 overall and 3-0 in league play.

Trailing 14-7 early in the third quarter, starting quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei attempted a shovel pass that went directly into the hands of a Pitt defender and was easily returned for a touchdown. It was his second interception on the day and Swinney benched the former 5-star in favor of sophomore Taisun Phommachanh.

However, Phommachanh, just six months removed from an Achilles injury, would not fare much better, and after just a couple of offensive series, Uiagalelei was back on the field. Phommachanh was just 3-7 for 43 yards, adding 15 yards on the ground.

In Uiagalelei's first series back, the Tigers went on a 5-play, 72-yard scoring drive, capped by the quarterback's six-yard touchdown run that cut the Panthers lead to 27-17. The drive was aided by three Pitt penalties.

The Tigers had their chances, though, particularly early on, but for much of the day, and after taking an early 7-0 lead, the Clemson offense was plagued by the same issues that they have experienced all season long. 

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Quarterback play was inconsistent, and far too often Uiagalalei struggled with accuracy. The receivers had too many drops of balls that were on target and the blocking on the perimeter was nowhere near what the Tigers have been accustomed to getting in recent seasons.

Key Play: Up 7-0 early in the second quarter, Clemson had Pitt on the ropes, as the Tigers were driving looking to go up two scores. On 1st and 10 from their own 38, Uiagalelei hit Shipley dead in the hands with what should have been a touchdown putting the Tigers up two scores. Instead, Clemson punts two players later and the Panthers tie it up on the ensuing drive.

Coach's Decision: Swinney's decision to turn to Phommachanh in the third quarter came at a critical juncture in the game. The Tigers had just gone down two touchdowns and were in dire need of a spark on offense after Uiagalelei had just gifted the Panthers a touchdown. While the move might not have worked, it was indeed necessary.

Player of the Game: Hard to go with anyone other that Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett here. After the Tigers were able to slow him down early on, the sixth year senior found his rhythm late in the second quarter, and once he got comfortable, he was able to pick apart the Clemson defense. Even more impressive, he did so with top wide receiver Jordan Addison watching from the sidelines much of the day. Pickett finished the day with more than 300 passing yards and hitting on well over 60-percent of his throws.

Freshman Impact: Shipley had 164 all-purpose yards in his return to action, and averaged more than five yards per carry on the ground.

Up Next: Clemson returns home next week as the Tigers will welcome Florida State to town for a 3:30 matchup with the Seminoles in the friendly confines of Death Valley.

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Want to join in on the discussion? 100% FREE! Interact with fellow Tiger fans and hear directly from publisher Zach Lentz, deputy editor Brad Senkiw and recruiting analyst Jason Priester on any subject. Click here to become a member of the ALL CLEMSON message board community today!