Game Prediction: #3 Clemson Tigers vs. Pitt Panthers

The IB staff makes predictions for the Clemson vs. Pitt matchup
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The third-ranked Clemson Tigers (7-1) look to continue their push for a rematch against Notre Dame when they host the Pitt Panthers (5-4).

Clemson has not played since its Nov. 7 loss at Notre Dame, and the Tigers are either going to be rusty after extra time off or extremely ticked off since they've had three weeks to think about the loss to the Fighting Irish.

Pitt has been a streaky team all season. It began the campaign with three straight wins, which was followed by four straight loss. The Panthers enter this matchup coming off two straight wins by a combined score of 88-31.

BRYAN DRISKELL, PUBLISHER

Prediction: Clemson 37, Pitt 30

Clemson will need to shake off the rust after not playing for three weeks, and it's been well over a month since quarterback Trevor Lawrence played. Of course, Lawrence has the talent and experience to pick up where he left off, but I think it will take a quarter or two for that to happen.

Pitt has arguably the nation's best run defense, and the Tigers have been average at best running the football this season. Expect the Panthers to make Clemson one-dimensional, and if that is combined with Lawrence being a bit rusty, the Panthers can hang in this game for awhile.

Pitt is a much different football team when Kenny Pickett is at quarterback, and that's why I see this being a competitive game. The Panthers are 5-2 with Pickett in the lineup, and both losses were by a point to NC State (30-29) and Boston College (31-30).

Clemson's secondary has been vulnerable against good pass attacks, and Pickett has thrown for 614 yards and completed 70.9% of his throws in his two games since returning to the lineup.

I expect the Tigers to pull away in the second half, but the one caveat is the Pitt pass rush. Clemson's offensive line has been good at protecting the quarterback for much of the season, but it hasn't faced a pair of pass rushing ends like Patrick Jones II and Rashad Weaver.

VINCE DEDARIO, FOOTBALL ANALYST

Prediction: Clemson 41, Pitt 10

Now this game should be interesting. That last time Clemson was on a football field they lost to Notre Dame in double overtime. Then they got their game against Florida State cancelled due to a Covid issue. They have been caged up for the past three weeks chomping at the bit for someone to play and get that nasty taste out of their mouths. 

In a way I feel sorry for Pitt. They still have a good defense but it will be no match for Clemson. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence has been sitting on the sideline even longer. Running back Travis Etienne needs to prove he won't fumble the ball in a big game this season. Pitt will put up a fight but when it is all said and done Clemson will walk away with a convincing win over the Panthers.

BRIAN SMITH, IB CONTRIBUTOR

Prediction: Clemson 34, Pitt 24

With quarterback Trevor Lawrence back in the Clemson lineup, most people will concede the Pittsburgh game as an easy victory. Not necessarily. 

With Jordan Addison and DJ Turner both playing at a high level at wide receiver, and senior quarterback Kenny Pickett is a proven player that makes big plays, Pittsburgh will score against Clemson. The Panthers rushing attack improved as of late, also aiding the offense. The bigger question will be how does Clemson's struggling rushing attack fair versus Pittsburgh's vaunted rushing defense?

Clemson back Travis Etienne will be the focal point for the Panthers, but look for him to make a couple of nice runs and find the end zone once. Additionally, the Tigers will be able to utilize Lawrence's legs with read option and quarterback power plays to help grind out short yardage conversions and stay ahead of the chains. 

For Pittsburgh, their blitzing and aggressive defense will continue to apply pressure on the line of scrimmage, but that will also allow some deep shots to Clemson's playmakers like Amari Rodgers, Frank Ladsdon Jr., and Cornell Powell. If wide receiver Joseph Ngata is back healthy, that would be a huge boost for the Tigers as well. He's a playmaker. We will all know when the game begins if he's ready to go.

Bottom line, while Pittsburgh will likely bottle up Clemson star running back Travis Etienne for much of the game, and force a turnover or two, Lawrence and the Tigers passing game will make enough big plays to win. Due note that Clemson is still banged up on both sides of the football, most notably middle linebacker James Skalski. That will hurt the Tigers.

NATHAN ATKINS, IB CONTRIBUTOR

Prediction: Clemson 43, Pitt 21

Clemson hasn't played a game in two weeks after Florida State backed out of last week's game due to concerns over COVID-19. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence was angry, and head coach Dabo Swinney hasn't quit talking about it. 

The Tigers will be excited to finally get back on the field, especially with their superstar quarterback once again leading the offense. Also, don't forget about that guy, Travis Etienne - expect him to have a big day as well.

Pitt has a great defense, and at 5-4, they are a tough matchup, but they lack the talent and depth to keep up with Clemson.

RYAN PALMERI, IB CONTRIBUTOR

Prediction: Clemson 59, Pitt 17

Pitt has been able to give Clemson some problems in the past, but I don't think we will see that Saturday. Clemson has to look impressive and can't lose again if they want to make the College Football Playoff.

With quarterback Trevor Lawrence back and a focused championship caliber team, they should roll until the conference championship. Notre Dame also blew the doors off Pitt this year so I'm expecting the same from Clemson.

JP SCOTT, IB CONTRIBUTOR

Prediction: Clemson 52, Pitt 13

The Tigers are as close to full strength as they’ve been all year, and they’ve had 3 weeks to marinate on the loss to Notre Dame. Pitt, as we saw when they faced the Irish, has some personnel deficiencies in key places on both sides of the ball. Look for a business-like performance from Clemson, as they march toward the ACC title game.

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