Pitt did not play one of its best games of the season on Saturday when facing No. 4 Clemson.
The Panthers turned the ball over too often, weren’t able to consistently sustain drives on offense, couldn’t protect Kenny Pickett, couldn’t run the ball, didn’t get enough pressure on Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence and gave up too many yards the running game.
Given the way Pitt played, they didn’t have a chance to beat Clemson and would have had a tough time with just about any ACC opponent.
But that’s not to say that Pitt’s 52-17 loss was self-inflicted.
No, the Tigers came to play on Saturday. Clemson had not taken the field since Nov. 7, when they had their seven-game winning streak snapped by Notre Dame. They got to sit at home and chew on that loss during their off week Nov. 14, while getting Lawrence back from COVID-19 and heart-and-soul linebacker James Skalski back from a groin injury.
Then on Nov. 21, Florida State backed out of playing Clemson at the last moment after a positive COVID-19 case on Clemson popped up after the Tigers had already traveled to Tallahassee.
The cancelation had Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney publicly livid and he spent the entire weekend off telling anyone that would listen that he thought the Seminoles backed out of playing his team because they were afraid to lose, and not because they were afraid of the virus.
The combination of a very good team to begin with, stewing on a loss, getting healthy, and then getting whipped into an emotional fervor by its head coach created a purple-clad monster.
In the first half against Pitt, the Tigers made every throw, every catch and every tackle. They beat double-teams, tipped balls, broke tackles and shed blockers.
Pitt lost to Clemson on Saturday, and Pitt did not play well. But with the Tigers playing like they were, I have no doubt that they’d have beaten each and every one of the other 128 FBS football teams, as well.
The Tigers are that good, and when their full powers are on display, it’s overwhelming. Clemson’s 35-point victory over Pitt made it nine straight seasons that the Tigers have beaten a conference opponent by 35 points or more. Last year, they did seven times!
Furthermore, almost every ACC team has fallen victim to one of Clemson’s butt-kickings over the years. Pitt is the 12th ACC team to lose to Clemson by 35 or more in the last nine seasons, with just Virginia Tech, North Carolina and now Notre Dame avoiding such a beating.
CLEMSON’S 35-POINT ACC WINS
2020 Georgia Tech
2019 Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Louisville, Boston College, NC State, Wake Forest, Virginia
2018 Wake Forest, Florida State
2016 Boston College, Syracuse
2014 NC State
2013 Wake Forest, Virginia
2012 Maryland, Duke
That doesn’t make it good or even OK that Pitt got its doors blown off Saturday, but it should put the loss into some perspective. As one of a handful of teams so talented that they are basically playing a different sport, Clemson just does that to people sometimes.