Prediction: Clemson QB Watson to throttle Panthers defense



Clemson QB Deshaun Watson (4) is a returning Heisman Trophy finalist and first-team All-American. (TNS)

The Pitt football team’s chances of victory Saturday are slim going against the undefeated No. 3 Clemson Tigers.

But Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi reminded reporters Wednesday at his weekly media teleconference, you don’t need to look any further than Election Day to remember not to pencil in any results early.

“As you saw [Tuesday] night, upsets happen,” Narduzzi said.

Pitt’s path to play spoiler will be difficult, as Clemson features one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Deshaun Watson, along with one of the best defenses in the nation. Playing in front of 81,500 fans in Death Valley — Clemson’s stadium — won’t make the task any easier.

Elementary for Watson

Pitt’s biggest challenge all season has been stopping talented quarterbacks. It has faced a litany of them in Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Virginia Tech’s Jerod Evans and Miami’s Brad Kaaya.

The Panthers might be facing their toughest test yet in Clemson’s All-American quarterback Deshaun Watson –– a mobile, strong-armed quarterback who finished third in the Heisman Trophy vote last year after leading the Tigers to the National Championship game.

Watson hasn’t been as effective running the ball this year but has been just as strong throwing the rock for the Tigers, tossing 24 touchdowns and 2,497 yards so far.

Narduzzi understands the challenge Watson presents.

“You don’t stop them, you’ve got to slow them down,” Narduzzi said. “They have major playmakers. Deshaun Watson is running the whole thing.”

Whether or not Watson –– a Heisman Trophy frontrunner entering the year –– is going to be recognized as the top player in America is irrelevant to Narduzzi.

“He’s special obviously,” Narduzzi said. “I don’t know if he’s still up for the Heisman or how politics go there, but he’s a great football player.”

Making his Da-mark

Many were surprised to see Narduzzi burn the redshirt of prized freshman cornerback Damar Hamlin on Oct. 27, when he inserted him into the game in the third quarter of Pitt’s Week 9 loss to Virginia Tech.

Hamlin –– Pitt’s highest-ranked recruit from its 2016 class –– hasn’t thrived yet in his first game-and-a-half of action. He surrendered two touchdowns last weekend against Miami.

“He’s a true freshman,” Narduzzi said. “I thought he played pretty good. Could play with better technique, as always, like every one of our players could on offense, defense and special teams.”

It won’t get any easier this week, as Clemson’s bevy of talent at receiver makes it an intimidating matchup for any defensive back –– let alone a freshman player.

Narduzzi is still encouraged by the progress Hamlin has made.
“You know, can’t be disappointed,” Narduzzi said. “I mean, he’s thrown in the fire there. He’s a young guy, and I think he stepped up, played with an attitude, too, which is good. Had a little dog in him a little bit.”

Top-tier opponent

Narduzzi is on the record saying that he doesn’t care about rankings, at least when it pertains to his team. But when a squad as highly touted as Clemson is on the schedule, it energizes the second-year head coach.

“With Clemson, our kids get an opportunity to go on the road, play in a hostile environment against a really, really good football team,” Narduzzi said. “[One] that’s ranked two or three in the country, wherever you guys have them, maybe No. 1 in the country in some rankings.”

The Tigers rank No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings and USA Today Coaches’ Poll, while sitting at No. 3 in the Associated Press poll. They are 9-0.

Narduzzi is also excited about the proposition of playing on national television. The game airs on ABC at 3:30 p.m.

“I think any time you get to play one of the top teams in the country, play the spoiler and go make something happen on national TV — I think that’s what players play for, and I think that’s what coaches coach for,” Narduzzi said. “That’s what you want.”

PREDICTION: Unlike our president-elect, Pitt likely won’t pull off a monumental upset on Saturday. The Panthers are going to struggle to defend Clemson’s air attack, while the Tigers’ defense could thwart Pitt’s usually potent offense. There’s always a chance this is as wrong as all the pollsters were on Tuesday, but it probably won’t be pretty for the Panthers in Death Valley.

Clemson 38, Pitt 17

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