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Pittsburgh Panthers vs. Clemson Tigers Preview and Prediction

Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson

The 2016 Clemson Tigers are hard to figure out. Early in the season they played down to their competition, but after a big win overLouisville and a blowout of Boston College, they seemed to be back on track. But the narrow victory over NC State put doubt back in many people’s minds. Now that the Tigers have won in Tallahassee and drilled Syracuse, the vibes are good in the South Carolina upstate once again.

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Through it all there is one definite truth: Clemson is 9-0 and eyeing a second straight College Football Playoff appearance. Pittsburgh is perhaps Clemson’s most rugged remaining opponent and the Panthers come to Death Valley this weekend.

Pitt enters having lost two in a row after putting itself in position to contend for the ACC Coastal Division earlier in the year. The two programs have only met once, with Pittsburgh winning the 1977 Gator Bowl 34-3.

Pittsburgh at Clemson

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 12 at 3:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ABC

Spread: Clemson -20.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Deshaun Watson

Clemson’s star quarterback came out of the Syracuse game with a shoulder injury late in the second quarter. The game was comfortably in hand at the time of Watson’s departure and there was no need to put him back in. He’s been cleared to play against Pittsburgh, though everyone will be watching for any ill effects. If No. 4 is 100 percent, look for him to put up huge numbers against a Pittsburgh pass defense that is 126th (out of 128 teams) in the country.

2. Blocking Ejuan Price

Pittsburgh's sixth-year senior defensive end has had a monster season to this point with nine sacks and 16 tackles for lost yardage. On a Panthers defense that, as mentioned, has not fared well against the pass, Price has been a consistent force, at least until last week. Miami's offensive line hasn't been overly impressive this season, but the Hurricanes limited Price to just one tackle. Pittsburgh’s secondary will be in big trouble if Price cannot pressure Watson.

3. The Pittsburgh Running Game

Let’s face it, quarterback Nathan Peterman and the Panther receivers are not going to beat Clemson. The only hope for Pitt is that it can re-establish a running game that slipped in the Miami game. On the year, James Conner has 712 rushing yards, but just 40 of those came last weekend. The Pittsburgh offensive staff also loves the jet sweeps with the receivers, particularly Quadree Henderson. But Clemson will be prepared for that aspect of the Panthers' offense, meaning Conner will need to improve on the 79 rushing yards per game he is averaging.

Related: College Football's 12 Best Position Battles to Watch in Week 11

Final Analysis

Last week's loss to Miami was very disappointing for Pittsburgh. Though the Panthers were essentially eliminated from the Coastal chase the week before with a loss to Virginia Tech, the Miami team that drubbed Pitt 51-28 had lost four in a row coming in. Based on where and who they are playing this Saturday, the Panthers better take their focus and execution up several notches or it won’t be pretty. Clemson is in a similar situation as the Tigers were going into the NC State game, coming off a blowout victory and playing a team that is not nearly as talented. But the Dabo Swinney's team knows what it has to do to get ready for the postseason and the defending ACC champs will continue to put things together against Pitt.

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Prediction: Clemson 44, Pittsburgh 17

— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.