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ACC Championship Game Preview
The Pittsburgh Panthers will try to bring a conference championship back to Western Pennsylvania this weekend when they play in the ACC Championship Game. Unlike Pitt’s previous trip to the ACC title game, they won’t have to face national power Clemson and battle the Wake Forest Demon Deacons instead. On a neutral field in Charlotte, the Panthers are listed as three-point favorites with an over/under of 72.5 points.
Pitt surely didn’t look like a contender in the ACC when the Panthers lost to Western Michigan early in the season. But they’ve put it together since then with two separate four-game winning streaks sandwiching a loss to Miami. That puts Pitt at 10-2 ahead of a chance to win the first outright conference title in program history.
As for the Demon Deacons, they enjoyed a dream season, starting 8-0. Despite several losses over the last month, Wake finished the season strong with a 41-10 win over Boston College last week to clinch the Atlantic Division. The Demon Deacons now have a chance to win their first ACC title since 2006.
Can’t Stop This
The Wake Forest defense looked unstoppable for large stretches of the season, averaging 42.9 points per game. Even in a loss to Clemson, which has the second-best defense in the country, the Demon Deacons scored 27 points. Quarterback Sam Hartman has been one of the most overlooked quarterbacks in the country, throwing 34 touchdown passes and ten interceptions while averaging 8.8 yards per pass.
Wake Forest has put plenty of help around Hartman, with both A.T. Perry and Jaquarii Roberson amassing over 1,000 receiving yards on the season. Three different running backs have split the duties in the backfield, giving defenses different looks and challenging their patience with Wake’s delayed handoff scheme. However, the Wake Forest defense has been a letdown this year, giving up at least 34 points in six of the team’s last eight games despite amassing 27 takeaways during the season.
White Pickett Fence
The Panthers have also been led by their quarterback this season, as Kenny Pickett could be a Heisman finalist. Despite an inconsistent rushing attack, Pickett was able to amass over 4,000 passing yards in 2021. He also racked up 40 touchdown passes over 12 games while limiting himself to just seven interceptions.
The Panthers feature more than a few capable receivers in support of Pickett, although Jordan Addison stood out with over 1,300 receiving yards and 17 touchdown catches. The Pitt defense also has some difference-makers, with the Panthers averaging under four sacks per game this season. But when the pass rush doesn’t get to the quarterback, the Pitt secondary can be vulnerable and was hurt by good passing teams this season.
Run and Shoot
This game has all of the makings of an entertaining and high-scoring affair. Both teams have excellent quarterbacks, and both teams have been vulnerable defensively. The game could be decided by what defense makes more of an impact, with Pitt being better at getting sacks while the Demon Deacons have excelled at forcing turnovers.
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