For much of the season, Clemson has been walking a tightrope. The Tigers had managed to execute down the stretch well enough to win close games over Georgia Tech, Boston College and Syracuse. The two losses were closely contested to the final play. But at Pittsburgh, Saturday, Clemson was thoroughly outplayed, outclassed and defeated 27-17.
Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett was as advertised, completing 25 of 39 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns. Early on, it looked as though Pickett may struggle against Clemson’s defense as Pitt was held scoreless on its first five drives. But with his club down 7-0 midway through the second quarter, Pickett went to work. The senior quarterback led his unit on touchdown drives of 90 and 76 yards to close out the half, wrestling away the lead …. and the momentum, for good.
In all, the Panthers posted 464 yards, the most against Clemson this season. Pitt managed all this despite not starting a drive past its own 25 and finishing with an average starting field position of its own 19. The Tigers have now been outgained in five of seven games this season, besting only SC State and Boston College in total yardage.
While Pitt is managing a Heisman campaign for its quarterback, Clemson may soon be managing a quarterback controversy. Starter D.J. Uiagalelei was benched in the third quarter after shoveling an interception that was returned for a 50-yard touchdown. Taisun Phommachanh entered and led the Tigers to a field goal, but Uiagalelei resurfaced and quickly engineered a fourth-quarter scoring drive. In postgame comments, neither offensive coordinator Tony Elliott or head coach Dabo Swinney would commit to Uiagalelei. Swinney said, “Everything is under evaluation.”
The injury report continues to grow, as well. Center Matt Bockhorst is lost for the season after tearing his ACL in the first quarter, and tight end Braden Galloway is out indefinitely with a separated shoulder. Swinney also announced the loss of wide receiver Frank Ladson for the season after undergoing groin surgery.
Clemson will look to regroup ahead of hosting Florida State at 3:30 p.m., next Saturday.