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Pitt stuns Clemson, hands them first loss of season: Tigers’ unbeaten streak ends and dampens playoff hopes

Kim Montuoro, Photo Editor

The main difference between the best teams and the very good teams is a simple one: endurance. The best teams have the endurance to win no matter what. They use their very last reserves of energy to make a tackle on the goal line or an extra high jump to force a turnover. Clemson has been one of the best teams over the last few years, but it seems they are still human after all. 

Clemson lost 43-42 when Chris Blewitt kicked a 48-yard field goal after Pitt stopped the Tigers on 4th-and-1 on the Pitt 45. Despite his last name, Blewitt would not be denied the opportunity to give Pitt its first win over an AP-Top 5 team since 2007. 

A couple of things stood out in this loss: the officiating has been getting worse, Clemson had no run game to speak of, Clemson doesn’t know how to defend a shovel pass and records don’t necessarily win games. 

While it isn’t fair to blame this loss on poor officiating, it still begs the question of how many points Clemson could have won by if not for some questionable yellow flags. Clemson committed nine penalties totaling 101 yards. Twice, a penalty was committed when Pitt would have been forced to punt, giving the Panthers a fresh set of downs. Twice, those penalties received a huge reaction from the crowd, which contested the results. Death Valley may have never heard so many boos before.

Late in the fourth quarter, with Pittsburgh down by eight, safety K’von Wallace was covering tight end Scott Orndoff. The quarterback, Nathan Peterman, overthrew the pass. Wallace was following Orndoff out of bounds, due to his momentum, and happened to place his hand on Orndorf’s shoulder for a few moments. 

That was enough for the referee to call a defensive holding penalty and give the Panthers a new set of downs. On the very next play, James Conner rushed for a touchdown and put Pitt within two points. 

Another penalty, in the third quarter, was called against Ben Boulware. Boulware, and fellow linebacker Kendall Joseph, made a crucial tackle right before the line to gain. The receiver, Dontez Ford, was resisting the tackle and stopped moving forward. 

The whistle was blown to call the play dead, but Boulware was called for a personal foul because the referee felt he was continuing to bring down the receiver after the play was over. There was only one problem; Boulware and Joseph were in the process of falling when the whistle was blown. They couldn’t possibly have stopped it from happening. 

While those two penalties could easily be blamed for the loss, there are two other and far more compelling reasons. Chiefly, that it doesn’t matter how many yards you throw for, interceptions in the red zone always hurt you. 

Secondly, defending all kinds of options including, but not limited to, the shovel pass is important in making sure the other team can’t score. 

Watson threw for an ACC-record 580 yards in one game and at the same time completing a school-record 52 passes on 70 attempts. The reason Watson had to throw so much was because the ground game was entirely inefficient. Running back Wayne Gallman rushed 18 times for only 36 yards, well below his usual average. Watson didn’t make any headway there either (1.6 yards per rush), so Coach Swinney reverted to using screen passes to substitute for a run. 

When asked about Pitt’s run defense, Gallman said, “They just played great football, they just beat us to the point. I have to credit Pittsburgh, they played a great game.”

It worked for the most part. What didn’t work was the red zone attempts. 

Coming into the game, Watson had already thrown 10 interceptions in just nine games, good for one of the worst in the nation. But take a step back for a moment. 

Yes, he threw three interceptions, but he had seventy attempts. Doing some quick math, accounting for the fact that his interception rate so far was 3.15 percent, Watson should have been expected to throw three interceptions. That isn’t an opinion, that is stone cold fact. 

With the amount of passes he threw, no one should be substantially angry at Watson for throwing three picks. It is unfortunate that he threw them when they were so tantalizingly close to scoring, but such is life. 

The last real problem was that as good as this Brent Venables led defense has been over the last three years, one offensive technique that they hadn’t seen much of was the shovel pass as an option in a play. Clemson plays the triple-option spread (a scheme that involves tricking the defense into not being able to follow the ball with how many options there are to give the ball to) every year when they face Georgia Tech, but even that scheme doesn’t utilize the shovel pass. 

This option completely fooled the Clemson front. Every time the pocket collapsed and it looked like the Tigers would put up a sack, the ball would wildly flip through the air for a split second and find its way into a receiver’s waiting arms for a positive gain. 

“We never stop making adjustments, so for us, we were just trying to find answers for what they were doing,” said Linebacker Kendall Joseph. “Some stuff were (sic.) things that we didn’t prepare for.”

Not being able to stop a core pillar of the other team’s offense makes it hard to keep them from scoring. That’s wisdom. The Pitt offense put up 356 yards of offense in the first half, which is astounding considering they averaged 453 yards per game. Clemson made some good adjustments during halftime and held the Panthers to just 108 yards in the second half. 

The shovel pass became much less effective, but they had to leave the coverage short and over the middle to plug that hole, which is what allowed Pitt to march down the field to set up the game winning field goal. 

Even with a loss this late in the season, Clemson’s playoff hopes have not been dashed. Michigan (No. 3) and Washington (No. 4) also lost as well leaving only Alabama sitting atop their golden throne.  Clemson has the benefit of having beaten Louisville earlier in the year and, unless the Tigers lose to Wake Forest or the Gamecocks, they still have the ACC Championship to prove that they have what it takes to be a playoff team.



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