Previewing the ACC Championship against Pitt

Pittsburgh is led by a strong offense, featuring quarterback Kenny Pickett


Essex Thayer, Sports Editor

With their win against Boston College on Saturday, Wake Forest is set to return to their first ACC Championship since 2006. With that in mind, it’s now time to turn our attention to the Demon Deacons’ opponents: the Pittsburgh Panthers.

Like Wake Forest, the Panthers were underdogs all year. They were predicted to finish near the middle of their division, below North Carolina, Miami and Virginia Tech.

This prediction was seemingly validated by an early-season loss to Western Michigan, a school that went 7-4 and lost to teams like Toledo and Eastern Michigan.

After the loss — disregarding a close defeat against Miami — Pittsburgh dominated their competition, defeating strong ACC teams like Clemson, North Carolina and Virginia, two of whom Wake Forest lost to.

One can’t talk about the Panthers’ offense without first mentioning Kenny Pickett, their redshirt senior quarterback who has propelled them to the ACC Championship. With his prolific play, Pickett has put himself squarely in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy.

The quarterback has thrown for 4,066 yards and 40 touchdowns this season, while only tossing seven interceptions. That comes out to an average of 356 passing yards and nearly three and a half touchdown passes per game. Pickett has also led the Panthers’ offense to 42.8 points per game.

In his ACC Championship introductory press conference, Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson was very complimentary of the quarterback.

“Kenny Pickett is just a phenomenal player,” Clawson said. “We played against him early in his career in 2018, and he’s just gotten better and better. He’s one of the very best quarterbacks in the country.”

The Panthers, similar to Wake Forest, also boast a three-headed running attack made up of Vincent Davis, Israel Abanikanda and Rodney Hammond Jr. The three backs have each ran for at least 470 yards this season and scored at least four touchdowns. Abanikanda and Davis are also potent in the passing game, having both caught at least 20 passes.

In the receiving game, there is one clear-cut star for the Panthers. Jordan Addison, a sophomore, has pulled in 85 receptions this season for 1,353 yards and 17 touchdowns. Those 17 touchdowns are the most for a single receiver this season in the country. For reference, A.T. Perry, who is tied for second in the NCAA, has four fewer touchdowns than Addison.

On defense, leading the team in tackles with 74 is defensive back Brandon Hill. Leading the Panthers in interceptions is redshirt senior linebacker John Petrishen with three. In the pass rush Habakkuk Baldonado leads the team in sacks with eight.

With Wake Forest also averaging over 40 points, this game is set to be a shootout. Who goes home with the ACC crown will most likely come down to who can best stop the offense. Both teams struggle on defense, but have played better as of late.

Regardless, this game is set to be a close one. Currently, the Panthers are the favorites by two and a half points. But that hasn’t dampened the excitement of Clawson and the Wake Forest program.

“I’m happy for our players, our staff and our team,” Clawson said. “You do this enough years, and every now and then you really have a special year and a special team that buys in. It’s the program. It’s assistant coaches. It’s all the players. It’s all the people who have supported us. It’s a collective effort. And I just happen to be fortunate enough to be the head coach of this collective effort.”

It certainly has been a collective effort for Clawson and the Deacons to reach this monumental point. Now, they just need to win.