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ACC Kickoff: John Simpson

College Football

ACC Kickoff: Clemson Still Top Dog; Targeting Changes Coming

Clemson offensive lineman John Simpson talks to reporters at the 2019 ACC Kickoff at the Westin in Charlotte, N.C. on July 17, 2019. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now)

ACC Kickoff: Clemson Still Top Dog; Targeting Changes Coming

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The first day of the ACC Kickoff began with talk about the ACC Network, featured Syracuse head coach Dino Babers weighing in on the moon landing and referencing Game of Thrones, saw a Clemson player throw some shade back at Alabama, and had some new guidelines revealed when it comes to targeting.

There wasn’t much talk about Pitt though, even though the Panthers won the Coastal division last season. Players and coaches from the Atlantic division that spoke Wednesday didn’t seem to give much thought to how the Panthers might play this season.

Pitt’s two Atlantic opponents this year are Syracuse and Boston College, two schools the Panthers are familiar with going back to their Big East days.

The only whisper of Pitt that arose on Wednesday was when Clemson safety Tanner Muse was asked about the criticism the Tigers’ defensive backs received last season. Muse explained that, after giving up 510 passing yards to South Carolina in the Tigers’ regular season finale, the unit really buckled down against the Panthers in the ACC Championship game.

“I thought we really proved ourselves against Pittsburgh,” Muse said. “I think we kept them under a hundred yards passing, which is unheard of, in a championship-type game. That was really satisfying as a team.”

Indeed. In Clemson’s 42-10 rout of Pitt in Charlotte last December, quarterback Kenny Pickett had arguably the worst game of his career, completing four-of-16 passes for eight yards, while also throwing a pick. That Clemson defense went on to hold Notre Dame to three points in the Cotton Bowl and then forced Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa into throwing two interceptions in the national championship game.

“I personally feel like Notre Dame was the best team that we played,” Tigers’ senior guard John Simpson said. “Notre Dame was really good. I think Notre Dame was better than Alabama was.”

Simpson didn’t have much to say about Pitt either. Instead, he shared a story about catching a shark in the offseason. In addition to sporting a Trevor Lawrence-like wig, Simpson might’ve been the most fun thing about the first day of ACC football media days.

“We were using (shrimp for bait). We caught it on a little baby hook too. That thing was crazy,” Simpson recalled. “It was me and my uncle on the boat, and he caught it initially, but he’s kind of old, so he couldn’t really (reel it in). So, he gave it to me, I was fighting it for a while, and it was a time. It was fun. I had some shark steaks; that was good. It’s like fish, but also (tastes) like chicken.”

Again this season, Clemson has all the tools to run away with the ACC crown. Some teams will try to bait the Tigers into playing their game, but most – if not all – will be unsuccessful in hooking Clemson and reeling them in for an upset victory. The Tigers will take hold of the bait, rip it off underwater with little fight and move towards the bigger fish: capturing another College Football Playoff berth.

CHANGES IN OFFICIATING, TARGETING

In a question-and-answer session on officiating, Dennis Hennigan – the ACC’s Supervisor of Football Officials – talked about some rule changes and there will be a few things different about how targeting is assessed this season.

When it comes to targeting – when a defenseless opponent is hit above the shoulders, or when the crown of the helmet is used to hit an opponent – the replay official won’t be able to say if the call stands after a review; the official will only be able to confirm the call or reverse it. If the replay official can’t determine whether or not there was targeting, he or she must reverse the call.

Additionally, after a player commits his third targeting foul within one season, he is suspended for the next game.

Hennigan also said that players cannot catch the ball with their legs. For the pass to be ruled complete, a hand or an arm must be involved.

NEW ‘CUSE PASSER STAYING PLANTED

When Pitt beat Syracuse last season, quarterback Eric Dungey led the Orange in rushing, scrambling 13 times for 70 yards.

But when Pitt goes to the Carrier Dome this season on Oct. 18, don’t expect the new man under center for the Orange to do much running.

“I like to think of myself as a pocket passer,” redshirt sophomore Tommy DeVito said. “At the same time when the time comes, if I need to run, I will. That is not my first thought.”

While Dungey took most of the snaps last season, DeVito played a bit. Still, the 6-foot-2 native of Cedar Grove, N.J. ran 23 times for negative-17 yards and one touchdown. He completed 50.6 percent of his 87 pass attempts.

“Tommy is one of our leaders. He’s one of the highest ranked players ever recruited. Obviously an Elite 11 candidate, finished fourth in that competition. Now he has an opportunity to be the starting quarterback and the leader of our offense,” Babers said. “We think very highly of him. We expect big things out of him. This might be a little bit early for him to be here, but if the shoes are too big, too bad. You need to grow up and fill ’em. Hopefully you guys will get an opportunity to see him for two or three more years up here.”

BC AIMING HIGH

Steve Addazio has been the head coach at Boston College since 2013. The Eagles have never finished with more than seven wins in a single season under his tenure, and they have a 1-3 record in bowl games – their only win coming in 2016 against Maryland in the Quick Lane Bowl.

But Addazio thinks this team is ready for the next step. And for him, that means competing for a conference championship.

“The next step for us is to compete for a conference championship. That’s what we need to do. I think when I talk about goals of the team, you start out with winning the opener. The next thing is you have to become bowl eligible. You have to then compete for a conference championship,” Addazio said. “In order to do that, we have to be able to stay consistent in our level of play through the course of the season. We have to develop our depth so that injuries don’t unseat us. That’s where I think our challenge lies, is staying healthy and staying consistent… We’ve got to stay consistent, stay healthy, and we’ve got to be able to beat a team like Clemson in order to have a shot to compete for that conference championship and win it.”

Clemson has won four straight division titles, and with Dabo Swinney at the helm, Lawrence at quarterback and a defense designed by Brent Venables, unseating them won’t be easy.

However, Boston College did enter last season’s clash against Clemson with a 7-2 record and trailed by less than a touchdown at halftime before losing 27-7.

One thing working in Addazio’s favor is that he might have the ACC’s best running back in AJ Dillon. The junior has rushed for more than 1,100 yards in each of the past two seasons and has totaled 24 touchdowns on the ground.

“I try to take a lot of pieces from different running backs’ games throughout time. Obviously, my favorite player when I was younger was (Ladanian Tomlinson),” Dillon said. “My third year, I kind of try to be a sponge, take little bits and pieces from all the great backs, Le’Veon Bell’s patience, Saquon Barkley’s ability to cut and accelerate. That all kind of works its way to trying to be an all-purpose back.”

Pitt will host Boston College for its regular season finale on Nov. 30. Both teams hope that game won’t be the last one they play in 2019.

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