Previewing the Pitt-Wake Forest ACC Championship Game: Can anyone stop these offenses?
Pitt and Wake Forest will battle it out on Saturday night for the ACC Championship and a spot in the Orange Bowl.
It’s a unique situation, as this is the first ACC title game since 2006 that will not feature Clemson, Florida State or Virginia Tech. The Demon Deacons also played in that game, defeating Georgia Tech 9-6.
Can Wake Forest claim its second ACC crown in the last 20 years? Dave Clawson’s team was arguably the most consistent ACC team all season long. Their only conference loss came against a red-hot Clemson team in November.
Pitt has also been exceptional this season. Led by Heisman contender Kenny Pickett, the Panthers cruised to an ACC Coastal title and a 10-2 record this season.
Let’s break down the matchup:
When Pitt has the ball
Pitt’s offense was excellent all year. The Panthers averaged a whopping 512 yards and 42.8 points per contest — second in the ACC to Virginia and Wake Forest, respectively. Pickett’s ability to stretch the field is a major reason why. Receiver Jordan Addison led the ACC with 1,353 yards and 17 touchdowns during the regular season. If that duo performs well vs. Wake Forest, the Panthers should be in good shape.
That brings up a troubling element of this matchup: Wake Forest’s defense. The Demon Deacons haven’t been very resistant over the second half of the season, as they’ve given up 48 points to Clemson, 45 to NC State, 58 to North Carolina and 56 to Army since mid-October. On the season, Wake Forest gives up 6.0 yards per play — just 11th in the ACC. Wake Forest’s defense gave up 7.3 passing yards per attempt this season, which is 8th in the ACC.
When Wake Forest has the ball
While the Demon Deacons struggled on defense this season, they were arguably the ACC’s best offensive team in 2021. Quarterback Sam Hartman gave defenses fits, and only Clemson was able to solve Wake Forest’s slow zone read concept late in the year. Receiver A.T. Perry is the name to watch here, as he’s coming off a 2 TD performance vs. Boston College in the season finale. Wake Forest can score with anybody — it put up 27+ points in every game this season — and it will need to prove that again on Saturday vs. Pitt.
Pitt’s defense has been up-and-down this season. While Pat Narduzzi is known as a defensive mind, his Panthers’ defense has been only mediocre in the ACC this year. They ranked No. 5 in the ACC this season at 5.26 yards per play allowed. Pitt did have the best rushing defense in the ACC this season at just 92.58 yards per game allowed.
If both offenses play to their potential, Pitt has the edge in this game. The Panthers’ defense has been significantly better than Wake Forest’s over the last two months and their offense is equally explosive. That doesn’t mean Wake Forest can’t win — Hartman has been just as good as Pickett for much of this season and is absolutely capable of pulling off an upset in Charlotte. Whoever does a better job of limiting the other team’s best receiver — Addison for Pitt and Perry for Wake Forest — will likely win the game, the ACC title and the Orange Bowl berth.