Trevor Lawrence returns as Clemson hosts Pittsburgh
Under normal circumstances, the Clemson Tigers would have a razor-sharp focus on the Pittsburgh Panthers. When the game kicks off, it will have been three weeks since the Tigers' last game, and that was a loss to Notre Dame. Trevor Lawrence is returning and suddenly rejuvenated Pittsburgh has won consecutive games by a combined score of 88-31.
But Clemson has to put what happened this past Saturday in Tallahassee out of their minds. The game against the Florida State was postponed hours away from kickoff when the medical personnel for the two schools could not agree on whether the game should be played. Several accounts stated that Clemson wanted to move forward and was not pleased that the game was called off.
That, however, is in the past, and a good Pittsburgh team is coming to town. The last time the Panthers ventured to Death Valley, they took down the third-ranked, unbeaten Tigers. The two programs have only met up two other times, with Clemson coming away victorious in both of those contests.
Pittsburgh at No. 3 Clemson
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 28 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Clemson -24
When Pittsburgh Has the Ball
It's not a coincidence that Pittsburgh has scored 88 points in the two games since quarterback Kenny Pickett's return from an ankle injury. With a limited running game all season, the play of the quarterback has been the reason for offensive success — or struggles — in 2020. Pickett is averaging 286.1 passing yards per game and has 10 touchdown throws to four interceptions. Joey Yellen, who replaced Pickett while he was injured, has completed less than 45 percent of his throws with just one touchdown and three picks.
Granted, Yellen's two games were against Miami and Notre Dame while Pickett returned to feast on Florida State and a Virginia Tech squad that appears to be going through the motions at this point. But it is clear that Pickett is a huge upgrade over Yellen, and his play inspires confidence throughout the offense.
That's good because they will be facing a well-rested and much healthier Clemson defense, one that is eager to show that it is not the same unit that gave up 47 points in South Bend. It's unclear at this time exactly who will be suiting up for the Tigers, but it is possible that Tyler Davis, Mike Jones Jr., and perhaps even James Skalski will be ready to go this weekend.
When Clemson Has the Ball
It looks like, perhaps, maybe, Trevor Lawrence will be back. Of course, everyone thought that was the case last week and his return was unexpectedly delayed. D.J. Uiagalelei played brilliantly in his two starts, but Clemson will certainly benefit by getting the nation's top player back taking snaps.
Interestingly, in the two games that Lawrence missed, wide receiver Cornell Powell has become a huge part of the offense. Prior to the Boston College game, the fifth-year senior had 54 catches for 481 yards in 33 career games. In the last two contests, Powell had 17 grabs for 266 yards. Lawrence has a great rapport with Amari Rodgers and the Tiger staff would love to see sophomores Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson Jr. shake off their injuries and get back to 100 percent. But if Powell can continue his surge with Lawrence at the helm, the Clemson passing offense should be just fine.
The running game, however, is a different story. It is hard to believe that Clemson, a team that features Travis Etienne at running back, could be 11th in the ACC and 74th nationally in rushing yards per game. For the Tigers to win the ultimate prize at the end of the year, the offensive line is going to have to become more effective at opening holes. And this week will be a huge challenge.
Pittsburgh has a dominating defensive front, one that ranks fifth in America in rush defense. SirVocea Dennis, Rashad Weaver, and Patrick Jones are all Panthers with double-digit TFLs. As a group, Pitt leads the nation in tackles for lost yardage by a wide margin despite having just four this past weekend against Virginia Tech. One thing to watch, however, is that Pitt's defense, after limiting Boston College to just 30 yards on the ground, has seen their opponent's rushing yardage creep up each week to the point that Virginia Tech's 156 yards last week was the most that the team allowed on the season.
This is not the easiest spot for Clemson. The Tigers haven't played in 21 days, and they are facing a team that did not quit even after four straight losses in the middle of the year and the opt-out of a defensive star. But Clemson should be as healthy as they've been in a long time. Trevor Lawrence's return to action will give the team some juice, but the big difference will be the defensive players that are back. In what could be a defensive fistfight for much of the day, Clemson will get back to its winning ways by beating Pittsburgh.
Prediction: Clemson 30, Pittsburgh 14
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— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.