During Pitt’s 34-13 win over Wake Forest on Saturday, the Panthers upheld a tradition of sorts that has emerged in the Pat Narduzzi era, as offensive coordinator Shawn Watson drew up a trick play in the red zone and called the number of an offensive lineman. That lineman, Stefano Millin, took full advantage of the opportunity, going on a six-yard tear toward the left pylon and diving into the end zone to provide Pitt with its final touchdown of the day.
It was a familiar scene for Panthers fans, as former Pitt left tackle Brian O’Neill, who also wore No. 70, gained a reputation for his athleticism and versatility through similar feats over the past few years. During that time, he broke off a number of big plays when he was given the ball, including a 24-yard touchdown rumble against Georgia Tech and a five-yard run for a score against Virginia Tech that ended similarly to Millin's recent reception.
Both of those plays came in 2016, which was the year that O’Neill, who now plies his trade with the Minnesota Vikings, won the Piesman Trophy. The Piesman has been awarded annually by SB Nation since 2015, and it goes to the offensive or defensive lineman who made the least lineman-like play of the year.
This year, Millin will have some serious competition for the honor, and Pitt may get a glimpse of who he’s up against in the ACC Championship Game. That’s because Clemson has deployed defensive linemen Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence as goal-line backs twice this season.
Wilkins lined up in the Tigers’ “Fridge” package in a 59-10 drubbing of Florida State on Oct. 27 and ran in a touchdown from one yard out. Lawrence got his shot in Clemson’s 77-16 annihilation of Louisville, punching in a score from two yards out on Nov. 3.
Considering Pitt and Clemson haven’t made a habit of calling these plays, at least not on a week-to-week basis, there’s no guarantee either team will turn to such unorthodox tactics with so much on the line. However, with three linemen taking the field with touchdowns on their resumes, the ACC finale may be the top showcase of Piesman candidates in 2018.
The Panthers and Tigers will face off for the ACC title at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Dec. 1. Pitt leads the all-time series with Clemson 2-0.