Clemson’s ACC dominance is alive and well and doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
The Tigers crushed Pitt 42-10 Saturday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium to clinch their fourth consecutive ACC championship. Clemson also clinched a spot in the College Football Playoff for the fourth consecutive year with the victory. The Tigers are likely to be the No. 2 seed when the College Football Playoff rankings are released Sunday afternoon.
Clemson is the first ACC team to ever win four consecutive ACC titles outright. The Tigers will either play in Dallas or Miami in the playoff against an unknown opponent on Dec. 29.
“It’s been a historic year. These guys have done things all year that have never been done or haven’t been done in forever, and this was just another one of those things tonight,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said. “It was something that they really took a lot of pride in. You can’t be the best ever if you don’t do things that have never been done.”
The battle between the second-ranked Tigers and the 7-5 Panthers was a mismatch on paper, and that’s the way the game played out.
Clemson running back Travis Etienne scored on a 75-yard touchdown run on the first play of the game and went on to rush for 156 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries.
Etienne was named the game’s MVP after being named the ACC Player of the Year earlier in the week.
“All that credit goes to my offensive line. Coming in Monday through Friday, just grinding every single day, gives us the group of backs we have. You want to go out there and lay it on the line for them,” Etienne said. “I think the reason I’ve been so successful this year is just the group of backs that I have, Tavien (Feaster) coming in there, running the defenses down, Adam (Choice) coming in... All my credit just goes to those guys.”
The Tigers led 28-10 at the half as Etienne added a score from 3 yards out and Trevor Lawrence tossed a pair of touchdown passes to Tee Higgins.
Clemson’s defense helped to set up two of Clemson’s first-half scores. Isaiah Simmons hit Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett from behind in the first quarter and forced a fumble, which was recovered by Christian Wilkins and returned 18 yards to the Pitt 3. Etienne scored on the next play.
The Tigers led 21-10 with less than a minute remaining in the first half when Pickett was picked off by Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell. The sophomore returned the interception 31 yards to the Pitt 10, and Lawrence found Higgins for a score with 25 seconds left in the second quarter on the next play.
Clemson scored a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter with Adam Choice scoring from a yard out and Lyn-J Dixon adding a 4-yard touchdown run.
Clemson’s passing game struggled for much of the night in the rain as Trevor Lawrence finished 12 of 24 passing for 118 yards and two touchdowns, but it didn’t matter.
Pitt was held to 200 total yards and only eight passing yards. Clemson had nine tackles for loss with Simmons and Dexter Lawrence each finishing with 2.5. Tre Lamar added two tackles for loss, while Clelin Ferrell had 1.5.
The defensive performance came a week after the Tigers allowed 600 yards and 515 passing yards against South Carolina.
“This is more my type of game,” Dexter Lawrence said. “It definitely was a bloodier-nose type of team and we knew that coming into the game, going into the week that we were going to have to prepare like no other and take all the good-on-good periods in practice real hard.”
Next for Clemson
What: College Football Playoff Selection Show
When: Noon Sunday (playoff teams announced at 12:30 p.m.)
Scenarios: Clemson is widely expected to hold onto a spot in the CFP Top 4 and play in either the Cotton Bowl (Arlington, Texas) or Orange Bowl (Miami). The final rankings will determine where Clemson plays. The College Football Playoff game times are 4 and 8 p.m. Dec. 29.