So, that was unexpected, right?
First things first, I can't catch a break in the predictions. I expect Pitt to take either a game against Virginia Tech or Miami, and end up missing on both. Then, of course, there was no way I could realistically expect the Panthers to knock off Clemson today. But, well, I'm not exactly complaining I had that one wrong.
Pitt defeated Clemson on Saturday in what can only be described as a big upset. Impossible? Nah. It's Pitt, not Eastern Kentucky. There's plenty of offensive talent on the team and we all knew they could score points. Stopping teams - now that's the hard part.
The Panthers, of course, weren't able to really stop Clemson on defense. Deshaun Watson set an ACC record with an unseemly 580 passing yards to go along with three touchdowns. Pitt's defensive backs were routinely beaten and when they weren't beaten, they were often flagged for interference. There was one stat that I simply couldn't believe when I heard it during the game. At one point, Clemson had accumulated 32 first downs and all of them were via the pass. That's right - every single one.
How does that happen? Well, it happens if you're facing a pass defense that can't stop the offense and when you have an offense that can't run the ball. Clemson had a total of 50 yards on the ground. By everybody. It wasn't entirely for lack of trying, either, since they had 25 attempts.
Ironically, Clemson did exactly what Pitt fans have said the opposition should do - ignore the run and pass, pass, pass. That works to a degree, but what we saw today is that when you pass that much (Watson threw the ball 70 freaking times), it opens you up to mistakes. That's why we're all armchair quarterbacks and why teams have to run. Watson slung the ball all over the field but also had three interceptions. That last one by Saleem Brightwell with Pitt trailing by eight late in the game and Clemson about to score a touchdown set up the team for a touchdown and, while they were still two points short, the field goal took care of that.
Lesson, boys and girls? You have to run the ball at least a little bit - no matter how porous the pass defense.
Sure, it took practically a miracle for Pitt to win the game. They needed that late pick. They needed to drive the ball again. They needed the long field goal. But the reality is that the Panthers were right there with Clemson, neck and neck, for the entire game. It took Dabo Swinney to show us but Pitt's run defense is more valuable than most of us thought.
On Pitt's end, I was just amazed at the number of guys that stepped up today. Nathan Peterman had a career day under center with his first 300-yard game (not to mention five touchdowns). James Conner had nearly 200 total yards and two scores. Scott Orndoff had to set a personal best with nine catches. And even the defense, as I mentioned, had its moments with the three interceptions, a big 4th down stop, etc.
Oh, that 4th down stop will haunt Dabo for some time, I'm guessing. Here's the deal. It's 4th and 1 and you're a championship caliber team. You need a measly yard and have a guy in the backfield in Wayne Gallman that, while he was having a bad day, had more than 1,500 yards last year. Your season is literally on the line. You're telling me you can't get a yard under those circumstances? I don't think it was a bad decision. Maybe the play call should be different, but if you're Dabo, you're thinking you keep the ball and go home.
I didn't have a big problem with the call. Pitt's offense had proven it could score points so I can understand him not wanting to punt. Maybe you try the field goal there instead but as one of the announcers pointed out, a block and potential return would have been catastrophic. If I'm a Clemson fan, I'm not upset at that decision.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the officiating. Now, hear me out, here. Clemson had a very bad call against them towards the end with a pass interference penalty that simply wasn't there towards. It was 3rd and 10 and Jester Weah got a very favorable call giving Pitt a first down, which they parlayed into a touchdown. Bottom line - Pitt doesn't get that call, they face a 4th and 10 that they need to convert into points. Bad call by the refs that put Clemson in a bad spot. Clemson fans will likely point to a few other calls they felt were unfair, but Pitt fans can say the same. There was no bigger play call that went against either team than the Clemson touchdown where Jordan Whitehead scooped up the ball and returned it back for a touchdown. Instead of a 14-14 game, that would have made it 21-7.
You'll get a bunch of different viewpoints on that one and likely, Clemson fans will side with it being a touchdown while Pitt fans would say otherwise. Personally, I thought it was a Clemson touchdown - not so much from the actual footage (one view blocked the play and another appeared to have him crossing, but at an angle. However, was the video absolutely conclusive and enough to reverse the decision? I don't know. Maybe.
Even if you throw out that game-changer, here's the thing. Both teams got some calls. Here's a solid rundown from SB Nation about missed calls that hurt Pitt. Plus, regardless of who you might thing was the greater beneficiary, the fact is that Clemson had plenty of other ways to win the game. Convert the 4th down. Keep Pitt out of field goal range. Score on that possession near the Pitt goal line instead of throwing the interception. Bad calls are unfortunate but in every single case, they're never the only reason a team loses a game.
At some point, you've simply got to overcome things. Pitt, for example, lost their best player in the secondary, Jordan Whitehead, to what seems like a pretty gruesome injury. The TV crew wouldn't even replay it, only telling viewers it was bad. What happened? Next play, Clemson takes a shot downfield and scores a touchdown. It is what it is. Fortunately for Pitt, they recovered and plodded ahead without him.
Finally, I've got to add this. Fans should be so proud of this team. Almost all of us would have simply taken a good effort and relatively close game and been satisfied. These guys did so much more than that. They hung with one of the best teams in the country for an entire 60 minutes and not only that, made legitimate plays down the stretch. You had a quarterback making key throws. You had a running back that defeated cancer and had a huge game. You had a kicker step up in one of the loudest stadiums in all of college football and drop a 48-yarder like it was nothing. These guys fought, and clawed, and scratched, and did not show the slightest hint of giving up.
Even when things looked bleak, all they did was make plays. The offense stalled out in the second half and the defense stepped up. They could have folded when Clemson was on the verge of taking a two-touchdown lead and made an interception. They stopped a team in their house on a 4th and 1 attempt to get the ball back. So many gigantic plays were made and those guys went out and refused to quit.
Kudos to those guys. Kudos to the fans that made the trip to witness what they thought could easily be a bloodbath. Kudos to the fans that watch these guys week after week. Kudos to the coaches for having these guys ready to play and not give up on this game after two very tough losses. This team did what we all have asked them do and showed up in a very big way today. And while the losses can be frustrating, this team has now given fans two incredibly big wins this year.
They deserve all the credit in the world - Hail to Pitt.
Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.