Pitt Panthers Game Day: ACC Championship vs Clemson Tigers

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Welcome to the most comprehensive Pitt Panthers Game Day Preview on the internet! IroniqMedia brings you your one-stop shop for everything you need to know about Pitt and their upcoming opponent! Mike Drakulich of Pittsburgh SportsNation brings you inside the huddle for both teams, providing all fans with a Game Preview, Pitt’s Keys to Victory, Score Prediction, a detailed breakdown of each team, Game Information, Individual Stats, and Team Stats. Heck, you’ll even know the weather at kickoff! The only thing you’re missing is a game uniform!

 

PANTHERS NOT LACKING CONFIDENCE HEADING INTO ACC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Everything seemed to be coming together at the right time for Pitt. They had won four out of five games. They had clinched the Coastal Division Title. The last game of the regular really didn’t mean much of anything in the standings, still, it was a challenge and a test for this Panthers team.

They failed miserably.

Doubts and confidence issues had to creep into this team’s head after being pasted by the Hurricanes 24-3. The offense couldn’t run the ball or pass the ball. Hell, they could barely give their quarterback two seconds to drop back and pass. When their quarterback did have time to pass, he either missed badly or had his few accurate passes dropped.

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It was, to say the least, a disaster.

Now Pitt (7-5) faces a force in #2 Clemson (12-0) that is better in every aspect of the game than the Miami team they faced just a week ago.

Are the Panthers going to just lie down for the National Title contending Tigers in the ACC Championship Game this Saturday night in Charlotte?

Don’t count on it if you listen to Pitt fullback George Aston.

“It’s all about us,” Aston said. “I know most of the games this year people have us not winning. We really are used to it and really don’t care what anybody else says or thinks.

“Obviously, the media and other people don’t really respect us. We’re fine with that.”

The ACC yearly awards came out earlier this week, and Clemson had five players on the first team and 21 overall, named to either the 1st, 2nd, 3rd teams or given honorable mention.

Pitt had 12 named, none making the 1st or 2nd teams.

“We’re like the no-name Pittsburgh football team,” coach Pat Narduzzi said sarcastically. “We just have a bunch of guys. They got a lot of them. We don’t have many of them.”

Coach wasn’t finished with his thoughts: “We’re in the championship game. We must have done it with smoke and mirrors, I guess.”

Pitt is hoping to end the ACC Atlantic’s dominance in the title game, in which the Atlantic has won the past seven contests. Virginia Tech’s 44-33 win over Florida State in 2010 was the last time for the Coastal. Clemson (4) and Florida State (3) have owned the ACC Championship rights for a while now.

Count out Sam Chase, who writes about sports betting for SI.com, on giving Pitt any respect.

“Each team benefited from a weak ACC this season, but Pittsburgh sticks out as a team that probably should not be playing for a major conference title,” was the words written by Chase.

Pitt was a huge underdog the last time these two teams met up in 2016.

All the Panthers did was go into Death Valley and hand Clemson their only loss of the season via a last-second field goal by Chris Blewitt, stunning the Tigers 43-42, who still ended up winning the National Championship that year.

Pitt also buried #2 Miami last year 24-14. They should’ve beaten #3 Notre Dame this season, a game the Irish came back to win 19-14.

Pitt is no stranger to pulling a David vs Goliath. They certainly won’t be shaking in their boots Saturday evening.

“If people credit us and give us respect, cool. If they don’t even better,” Aston said. “It’s about how we feel.”

Clemson promises to not be overlooking the Panthers despite being favored by four touchdowns.

Pitt definitely presents a big challenge for us,” Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins said. “They’re a good team. There’s a reason they won their division. We’re going to have to bring it, be on our toes, be ready for anything.”

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney certainly hasn’t forgotten about that upset in 2016.

“They just came in here and outplayed us in that game,” Swinney said. “We couldn’t really stop them. We were very fortunate, because if I remember correctly it seemed like everybody lost on that day. Had that not happened, we might’ve been out of the playoffs.

“Our seniors, their only home loss of their career was Pitt, so they’re excited to have a chance to play Pitt in their last ACC game.”

Though Clemson looks as if they are even better than that National Title winning team that lost to the Panthers, Pitt’s head coach thinks his program has improved, too.

“We’ve come a long way since we played them down there,” Narduzzi said. “I think our depth is better. Any time you can go beat one of the best in the country, it gives your kids the belief that what we’re doing is the right stuff. But the stars have to be aligned and you’ve got to do things right and have a little luck along the way.”

Now Narduzzi has to get the bad memories of last week’s game extinguished permanently.

“I’m not so sure some of our kids weren’t already looking forward to this game,” Narduzzi said. “It will be our first trip there. Clemson has obviously been there before. This will be nothing new to them. I think it’s going to be important for our football team to stay focused and locked into why we’re there, what our job is.”

His defense faces a tall task of stopping a team that averages 283 yards through the air and 256 yards on the ground.

Clemson freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence has been the man since assuming control of the starting role in the season’s fifth game. He’s passed for 2,488 yards and an ACC-leading 22 touchdowns. It doesn’t get any easier in the ground attack, as sophomore running back Travis Etienne tops all league rushers with 1,307 yards and 19 touchdowns.

“He’s done an unbelievable job,” Narduzzi said of Lawrence. “Dabo named him the starter a while ago, and rightfully so.”

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Pitt Keys to Victory

Offense

  • Pass block for Kenny Pickett. The kid needs more than 2-3 seconds to drop back and find a receiver.
  • Utilize the middle of the field in the passing game for once.
  • Be creative running the ball. Keep Clemson guessing. Go Wildcat at times.
  • Time-consuming scoring drives.

Defense

  • Tackle at the point of contact.
  • Be aggressive and get to Trevor Lawrence.
  • Find a way to create turnovers.
  • Play with swagger.

Prediction

If Pitt has any chance of pulling off a monumental upset this Saturday night in Charlotte, a lot will ride on the gameplay of quarterback Kenny Pickett.

Count safety Dennis Briggs as a Pickett fan.

“He’s always been a locker-room leader,” Briggs said. “That’s something that comes naturally to him. It’s something that translates out on the field. The offensive huddle is an intimate setting. I can tell in guys’ eyes they trust what he says when they’re out there on the field. That’s a great thing for our program to really trust a guy that’s out there going to battle every single day.”

Pickett sat in his living room watching his future team defeat Clemson 43-42 in 2016. Now it’s his team, and his turn to lead the Panthers to a win no one gives them a chance to accomplish.

“When I first came here, I wanted to get this team back into championships, lead this team back into a championship like they were in the old days,” Pickett said. “We had them in 2016. I wasn’t a part of it. I just got to watch it and see the emotion those guys played with. Now it’s in the ACC championship game, means that much more.”

One big key will be not turning the ball over to the great defense Clemson possesses. Pickett hasn’t thrown an interception in his past 132 passing attempts.

“My whole mindset is find a way, whatever it takes to win a game,” Pickett said. “Every quarterback needs to manage a game, first. That’s really our main job, is to manage a game.

“In the check game, the kill game, passing game, change in protection. There’s a lot that goes under a quarterback’s belt in terms of what he has to do to manage a game. Every week is different.

“Syracuse week, they can’t stop the run. Virginia Tech week, they can’t stop the run. Smile on my face as we run down the field and score touchdowns. We threw it 30 times (in the Coastal-clinching victory at Wake Forest). We’ll do whatever it takes to win.”

That is the type of leadership this team needs, especially from its most important position.

Pitt will need a total team effort to do the unthinkable again. Their coach believes in his players.

“We can do whatever we want to do,” Narduzzi said, “just have to put our minds to it.

“I’ve always lived my life that way, whether wanting to go to college, getting a degree, marrying my wife. I mean, I say, I think I’m going to marry that girl there. That’s the girl I want. That’s kind of what happened. I think it’s an attitude.”

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Preparation will be the key. So will the execution of that preparation…

“The big thing is we’re going to look at every (Clemson) game this season. We’ll have bits and pieces of every game last season,” Narduzzi said. “We’ll look at the 2016 game. We’ll go back and look at any explosive plays they’ve had, trick plays, wheels, anything new that we haven’t seen. We’ll have really a two-year deal on them.”

How about being four touchdown dogs?

“The underdog, I mean, I think our kids will know they’re the underdog,” he said. “I don’t think I have to tell them. If you turn any TV station on, turn on ESPN, they’ll find out by the time we get probably (to) Wednesday that they’re the underdog.

“I won’t really have to play that role up. I think they’ll have figured that out.”

It’s literally Rocky Balboa vs Apollo Creed here. Rocky had a puncher’s chance, as does this Panther team that would like to atone for last week’s loss to Miami in a big way this week.

“I think football players in general have confidence, period,” said Narduzzi. “It’s not like we got our doors blown off. A tight game for most of the game. We let it get away from us at the end with a couple runs.

“I’m not so sure some of our kids weren’t already looking forward to (the championship game) already. So I don’t think we’ll have much trouble trying to get them ready for the game. I think they’ve looked forward to it for a week, maybe too much.”

Ding-Ding… Let’s get ready to rumble!

If there was a team that was capable of breaking Clemson’s rush defense, it’s this one. But it will take a total offensive effort. Qadree Ollison and Darren Hall have combined for 2,069 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns. These two, combined with a solid offensive line, can break your will with the way they dedicate their craft to rushing attack. The key to opening up some cracks in that Clemson defense is through the air, so as mentioned, Kenny Pickett will have to bring his A+ game, and his receivers are going to have to elevate their play to boot. The middle of the field has been largely ignored by the Pitt quarterback all season.

That trend has to end Saturday. Clemson has been involved in a few close affairs this year, and each time they had problems stopping the pass. Kellen Mond had 430 yards passing and three TD’s in Texas A&M’s narrow 28-26 loss to Clemson. Syracuse’s Eric Dungey had 250 yards, but couldn’t capitalize on several chances, as Clemson rallied to beat them 27-23. Last week vs South Carolina, the Gamecocks put up 600 total yards, 510 of it through the air, but its defense couldn’t stop Lawrence, who squashed them 56-35 in the end.

Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi has this program heading into a bright future. Playing for the ACC Championship is just the first step of many. They’ve been overlooked all season and given no chance to even make this game competitive. Know one thing. They won’t go down without a fight in this one. Clemson may be on course to be the only team capable of beating Alabama, but Pitt and their players represent a city that has an against all odds mentality.

“When I took this job a few years back, one of the reasons I took the job is because I love the opportunity to compete in the ACC. I love the conference, love the division that we’re in. I thought, looking at the Coastal, anybody had a chance to win that division and have an opportunity to go play in a championship game,” Narduzzi said. “Really, four years later, it’s coming to fruition that I was right in what I thought. … It’s a tremendous opportunity that our kids have to go in there and compete against the best in the country.”

The pressure is all on Clemson. Pitt is playing with house money. Clemson will win, but Pitt will give them every ounce of fight they have.

Clemson 31 Pitt 20

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Game Information

ACC Championship Game

Pitt Panthers vs Clemson Tigers

Venue: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC. | Field: Bermuda Grass

Game-time: Saturday, December 1st, 8:00 p.m.

Game Tickets Link

TV: ABC-TV (WTAE, Channel 4, in Pittsburgh) | Announcers: Chris Fowler (play-by-play)  Kirk Herbstreit (analyst) | Maria Taylor (reporter)

Local Radio: Pittsburgh- 93.7 The Fan | Announcers: Bill Hillgrove (play-by-play) Pat Bostick (analyst) | Larry Richert (sideline)

National Radio: ESPN Radio | Announcers: Bill Rosinski (play-by-play) David Norrie (analyst) | Molly McGrath (sideline)

Sirius XM Satellite Radio: Sirius Channel 84, XM Channel 84, Internet Channel 84

Weather at Kickoff: 57 with a 75% chance of rain and possible storms. Winds S 7 mph.

Vegas Line: Clemson -27.5

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Pitt vs Clemson History

  • Series History: Began in 1977
  • Pitt is 2-0 overall vs Clemson
  • At Home: 1-0
  • On Road: 0-0
  • Neutral Site: 1-0
  • ACC Series: 1-0
  • Streak: Pitt won last two meetings.
  • Last Regular Season Meeting: Nov. 12, 2016 (Pitt 43, Clemson 42)
  • Last Post-Season Meeting: Dec. 30, 1977 (Gator Bowl: Pitt 34, Clemson 3)

Game Notes* 

  • Pitt’s 2018 regular-season slate was widely considered one of the nation’s toughest. The postseason won’t get any easier with undefeated Clemson (12-0) looming.
  • While Pitt is playing in its first conference championship game, Clemson will be making its sixth appearance. The Tigers have won the last three ACC titles (2015-17), advancing to the College Football Playoff following each of those triumphs. Clemson is 4-1 overall in the ACC title game.
  • Pitt will face half of the top four teams in this week’s major polls. In addition to Saturday’s title tilt with No. 2 Clemson, the Panthers on Oct. 13 played at Notre Dame (ranked No. 3 this week), falling on a late touchdown pass, 19-14.
  • Pitt and Clemson have played on two prior occasions with the Panthers winning each time. In 2016, Pitt defeated Clemson in Death Valley, 43-42, handing the eventual national champion Tigers their only loss during a 14-1 campaign. The teams also met in the 1977 Gator Bowl, a 34-3 Pitt victory in Jacksonville, Fla.
  • Pitt is 1-1 in games played in Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium. Both contests were bowl games. The Panthers defeated North Carolina, 19-17, in the 2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl and lost to Virginia, 23-16, in the 2003 Continental Tire Bowl.

    *Courtesy of pittsburghpanthers.com

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A look at the Pitt Panthers!

Scouting the Panthers

Quarterback 

Kenny Pickett played in four games last year, making one start as a true freshman. Gifted with a strong arm and the ability to run with the ball if no receivers are open. Jeff George has risen to the #2 spot.

Running Backs

Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison give the Panthers a 1-2 punch out of the backfield. Consider Hall lightning to Ollison’s thunder. George Aston is back at fullback after missing most of 2017. Aston was a beast in 2016 finishing third on the team in scoring (tied) with 60 points on 10 touchdowns (five rushing and five receiving). A.J. Davis was expected to see time this year, but it looks as if 2019 will be his time to shine. V’lique Carter was unleashed against Duke and ran for 137 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries, an incredible average of 19.6 per rush!

Wide Receivers

Pitt is deep at WR, with senior Rafael-Araujo Lopes, juniors Tre Tipton, Maurice Ffrench, and Aaron Mathews, freshman Shocky Jacques-Louis, and Indiana sophomore transfer Taysir Mack. Araujo Lopes, Ffrench, and Mack are the top trio for Pickett. Mathews may not see many passes, but he is an absolute beast blocking downfield in the rushing attack.

Tight Ends

At tight end, sophomore Tyler Sear transferred out, leaving the job to Arkansas transfer Will Gragg and Grant Carrigan. Jim Medure is also in the mix.

Defense

Dewayne Hendrix and Rashad Weaver are solidified as Pitt’s defensive ends.

Senior Shane Roy was a starter at nose tackle last year, Amir Watts and redshirt sophomore Keyshon Camp to see time as well. Jaylen Twyman, has been pushing the whole group as a redshirt freshman.

At LB, Oluwaseun Idowu is the starting outside “star” linebacker. Quintin Wirginis was the starter in the middle until he was injured at midseason at practice. Elias Reynolds and Chase Pine are rotating in Wirginis’ absence. Redshirt senior Elijah Zeise and redshirt junior Saleem Brightwell battling for the “money” spot.

Redshirt junior Dane Jackson started all 12 games last year and will assume the same duties as a starting cornerback in 2018. Redshirt senior Phillipie Motley, sophomores Damarri Mathis and Jason Pinnock, and redshirt freshman Paris Ford are all battling for that 2nd spot.

Junior Damar Hamlin starts at free safety, with Dennis Briggs and redshirt sophomore Phil Campbell battling for the starting role at strong safety.

Placekicker

Alex Kessman took over Pitt’s starting placekicking duties in his first active season…converted 11-of-19 field goals (58%) and 34-of-34 PATs (100%) for a team-high 67 points. This year, he’s has nailed four field goals from beyond 50 yards, including a Heinz Field record 55 yarder.

Kick/Punt Return

Maurice Ffrench and Rafael Araujo-Lopes will provide the return duties for the Panthers. Ffrench has already returned two kicks to the house in 2018.

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Individual Stats

Quarterback

  • Kenny Pickett (1,825 yards passing | 12 TD passes | 5 interceptions | 28 sacks | 186 yards rushing | 3 rushing TD)

Running Back

  • Qadree Ollison (1,134 yards rushing | 10 rushing TD’s | 11 receptions | 66 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • Darrin Hall (935 yards rushing | 9 rushing TD’s | 13 receptions | 64 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • V’Lique Carter (176 yards rushing | 2 rushing TD’s | 2 receptions | 7 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • AJ Davis (105 yards rushing | 0 rushing TD’s | 3 receptions | 17 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)

Fullback

  • George Aston (10 yards rushing | 1 rushing TD’s | 15 receptions | 68 yards receiving | 1 receiving TD’s)

Wide Receivers

  • Rafael Araujo-Lopes (34 receptions | 357 receiving yards | 4 receiving TD’s | 28 yards rushing | 0 TD’s)
  • Maurice Ffrench (30 receptions | 466 receiving yards | 6 receiving TD’s | 142 yards rushing | 2 TD’s)
  • Taysir Mack  (21 receptions | 489 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s)
  • Aaron Matthews (9 receptions | 120 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • Shocky Jaques-Louis (9 receptions | 76 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s | 58 yards rushing | 0 TD’s)
  • Tre Tipton (5 receptions | 42 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • Dontavius Butler-Jenkins (4 receptions | 12 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s | 0 yards rushing | 0 TD’s)

Tight Ends

  • Will Gragg (5 receptions | 31 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • Jim Medure (3 receptions | 29 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)

Placekicker

  • Alex Kessman (Extra Point: 38-40 | FG: 10-13 | 0-19:  0-0 | 20-29:  1-1 | 30-39:  1-3 | 40-49:  4-5 | 50+:  4-4 | Long: 55)

Kickoff Returner

  • Maurice Ffrench (29 yards per kickoff return | 2 return TD’s)

Punt Returner

  • Rafael Araujo-Lopes (8.2 yards per punt return | 1 return TD’s)

*Injured

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A look at the Clemson Tigers!

Scouting the Tigers

Quarterback

Trevor Lawrence has 2,488 yards passing, 22 touchdowns, and just four interceptions. He doesn’t run much, but he is accurate and the team’s leader on offense.

Running Back

Travis Etienne is a beast, rushing for 1,307 yards and 19 TDs. The Tigers are deep at this position and can roll in several talented backs to spell Etienne.  Lyn-J DixonAdam Choice, and Tavien Feaster are all capable of causing damage with the ball.

Wide Receivers

Tee Higgins leads the team with 49 receptions for 766 yards and eight scores. Lawrence has a variety of weapons to throw to, including Amari RodgersHunter RenfrowJustyn Ross, and Diondre Overton.

Tight Ends

Milan Richard is the Tigers best option at tight end but isn’t utilized much.

Defense

The Tigers are #4 in total defense and #2 in rush defense, allowing just 84.8 yards per game on the ground.

Individual Stats

Quarterback

  • Trevor Lawrence (2,488 yards passing | 22 TD passes | 4 interceptions | 7 sacks | 126 yards rushing | 1 rushing TD)

Running Back

  • Travis Etienne (1,307 yards rushing | 19 rushing TD’s | 10 receptions | 65 yards receiving | 1 receiving TD’s)
  • Lyn-J Dixon (531 yards rushing | 4 rushing TD’s | 1 receptions | 41 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • Adam Choice (455 yards rushing | 6 rushing TD’s | 1 receptions | 3 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • Tavien Feaster (379 yards rushing | 6 rushing TD’s | 7 receptions | 39 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • Kelly Bryant (130 yards rushing | 2 rushing TD’s | 0 receptions | 0 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)

Wide Receivers

  • Tee Higgins (49 receptions | 766 receiving yards | 8 receiving TD’s)
  • Amari Rodgers (47 receptions | 519 receiving yards | 4 receiving TD’s)
  • Hunter Renfrow (41 receptions | 472 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s)
  • Justyn Ross (32 receptions | 629 receiving yards | 6 receiving TD’s)
  • Derion Kendrick (14 receptions | 213 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • Trevion Thompson (14 receptions | 139 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s)
  • Diondre Overton (13 receptions | 187 receiving yards | 3 receiving TD’s)
  • T.J. Chase (10 receptions | 84 receiving yards | 2 receiving TD’s)

Tight Ends

  • Milan Richard (6 receptions | 50 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s)

Placekicker

  • Greg Huegel (Extra Point: 62-62 | FG: 9-13 | 0-19:  0-0 | 20-29:  3-3 | 30-39:  4-6 | 40-49:  2-4 | 50+:  0-0 | Long: 49)

*Injured

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Pitt – Clemson: Offense vs Defense Match-Ups

Pitt Total Offense: Pitt averages 386.1 YPG | Clemson allows 283.2 YPG

Rushing: Pitt averages 232.7 YPG | Clemson allows 84.8 YPG

Passing: Pitt averages 153.4 YPG | Clemson allows 198.4 YPG

Scoring: Pitt averages 28 PPG | Clemson allows 14 PPG

 

Pitt Total Defense: Pitt allows 399.9 YPG | Clemson averages 539.1 YPG

Rushing: Pitt allows 174.3 YPG | Clemson averages 256.3 YPG

Passing: Pitt allows 225.6 YPG | Clemson averages 282.8 YPG

Scoring: Pitt allows 27.8 PPG | Clemson averages 45.7 PPG

Defensive Stats

  • Pitt (Sacks: 28 | Interceptions: 9 | Fumbles: 9)
  • Clemson (Sacks: 43 | Interceptions: 8 | Fumbles: 9)

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Injury Report (11/29/2018)

Pitt Panthers

  • Out: LB Quintin Wirginis (Knee), DL Keyshon Camp (Upper Body), C Jimmy Morissey
  • Doubtful: None
  • Questionable: None
  • Probable: None


Clemson Tigers

  • Out: None
  • Doubtful: None
  • Questionable: TE Cole Renfrow (Undisclosed)
  • Probable: None

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ACC Standings

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Pitt Panthers 2018 Schedule

Regular Season (Overall: 7-5 |  ACC: 6-5)

Sept. 1      Albany                     W – 33-7
Sept. 8      #13 Penn State        L – 51-6
Sept. 15     Georgia Tech*        W – 24-19
Sept. 22     at North Carolina*   L – 38-35
Sept. 29     at #13 UCF               L – 45-14
Oct. 6        Syracuse* (HC)        W – 44-37
Oct. 13      at #5 Notre Dame    L – 19-14
Oct. 27      Duke*                      W – 54-45
Nov. 2       at #25 Virginia*        W – 23-13
Nov. 10     Virginia Tech*         W – 52-22
Nov. 17     at Wake Forest*       W – 34-13
Nov. 24     at Miami*                 L – 24-3

Dec. 1       ACC Championship Game in Charlotte: vs Clemson, 8:00 p.m.

*ACC game |  (HC) Homecoming  | Bold = Home Game

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