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Pitt gets Lawrence in return for Clemson

The Associated Press

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence has never had a break from football like this. Now that he is set to make his delayed return to the field, Lawrence is glad he gets to play in the final home game of the season.

Saturday could be his final home game at Clemson ever.

The Tigers’ strong-armed, accurate, 6-foot-6 junior has done little more than practice and watch his teammates since missing a two-point conversion try early in the fourth quarter of a 47-21 win over Syracuse on Oct. 24.

Lawrence tested positive for COVID-19 the next week, missed the next two games before practicing through a bye week and then preparing for Florida State before that game was postponed last Saturday.

Lawrence and the Tigers (7-1, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 3 CFP) have their fingers crossed this time as they prepare for Pittsburgh (5-4, 4-4).

“That was frustrating for me because I wanted to be on the field,” Lawrence said of the Florida State game being canceled. “But there’s going to be another week. Hopefully, everything goes well and we get to play. There’s a lot of football ahead.”

Just maybe not for Lawrence, at least not at Clemson’s Death Valley. He’s scheduled to graduate next month and has said he plans to enter the NFL draft, where he’s expected to be the No. 1 overall pick.

Last month, Lawrence was less committal on the NFL, saying he has options that include staying in college. Still, he will take the traditional solo run down Clemson’s iconic hill on Senior Day before facing the Panthers.

“It’s really changed my life being here,” Lawrence said. “There’s going to be a lot of emotions, I don’t know how strong they’ll be when I’m up there” on the hill.

On the field, fans should expect the same, calm precision Lawrence has shown throughout his career. He was a Heisman Trophy frontrunner before his COVID-19 diagnosis, yet has faded from the spotlight with his time on the sidelines.

Lawrence and the Tigers won’t have it easy against the Panthers, who enter Saturday’s matchup with the league’s top defense. Pittsburgh leads the country in tackles for loss per game and has three players among ACC’s top five in that category this season.

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi understands his team will have to play at or above its level thus far to slow down Clemson’s Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne.

“We know Trevor Lawrence and Etienne on offense are explosive,” he said.

Some other things to watch when Pittsburgh visits Clemson:

COVID-19 fallout

Early in the week, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was angry about Florida State cancelling last Saturday’s game due to positive coronavirus test by a Tigers player on Friday. He says the team has had no more positives and he’s moving on to the Pitt game.

Pittsburgh has had its share of COVID-19 issues, too, with 16 players missing from last week’s game with Virginia Tech due to coronavirus protocols. Coach Pat Narduzzi is unsure if any will be back to play Clemson. “With COVID protocols, with injuries, you just don’t know,” he said.

He’s back

Travis Etienne, the two-time reigning ACC player of the year, will make his last appearance in front of Clemson’s home crowd this week. The senior has improved his skills in the passing game as opponents have focused on the run and taking Etienne out of action. Etienne has 634 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing. He’s second on the team with 37 catches for 491 yards.

Memory lane

Pittsburgh’s last trip to Clemson was also the last time the Tigers lost at home. The Panthers got a late, 48-yard field goal from Chris Blewitt to beat No. 2 Clemson 43-42 on Nov. 12, 2016. The Tigers have won the last 27 straight at home since losing to the Panthers.

A good crowd

Clemson’s Swinney was appreciative of the crowds who’ve turned out for the team’s five home games so far given restrictions on seating, tailgating and the typical fan game-day experience provided at and around Memorial Stadium. Clemson has allowed up to 19,000 people in the stadium, about a quarter of capacity. Still, Swinney said those there are orange-wearing, loud and proud. “It’s not the same type of environment we’re accustomed to, but it’s still been awesome,” Swinney said.

Pitt at No. 4 Clemson

Pitt (5-4, 4-4 ACC) at No. 4 Clemson (7-1, 6-1, No. 3 CFP), Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (ABC).

LINE: Clemson by 23.

SERIES: Pitt leads 2-1.

RECORDS: Pitt (5-4, 4-4 ACC); Clemson (7-1, 6-1)

WHAT’S AT STAKE?: Clemson is playing the rest of the season for its spot in the ACC championship game and the College Football Playoff. The Tigers can’t afford to lose any remaining games in the regular season if it hopes to compete for a sixth straight league title next month. Pitt is the last team to defeat the Tigers at home with a last-second field goal for a 43-42 win in 2016.

KEY MATCHUP: Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence vs. Pitt’s defense. Lawrence has not played a game since Oct. 24, the week before he tested positive for COVID-19 and missed the Tigers’ next two matchups while recovering. He’ll need to be very sharp against a Panthers’ D that leads the ACC and is the only league team allowing less than 300 yards a game this season.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Pitt DL Patrick Jones II: He has been a terror on the Panthers’ defensive line, leading the ACC with eight sacks and is tied for fourth in the league with 11 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. … Clemson RB Travis Etienne: Clemson’s senior running back had played strongly the first half of the season, so much so he was a strong candidate for the Heisman Trophy. But Etienne has slowed the past three games, rushing for just 198 yards (69 yards per contest).

FACTS & FIGURES: The Tigers have won their past 26 games at Death Valley since losing to Pitt in 2016. … Clemson won its first-ever game over Pitt at the ACC Championship in 2018, 42-10. … The Panthers are 5-11 since 2000 in games against top-five opponents. Their last win in such games came in a 24-17 victory over No. 2 Miami in 2017. … Clemson is looking to improve to 50-3 against ACC opponents over the last six seasons. … Pitt has scored more than 40 points its past two games, the first time they’ve reached that point total in consecutive games since 2016. … Etienne has scored at least two touchdowns in 23 games, two shy of the all-time mark shared by Miami of Ohio’s Travis Prentice and Wisconsin’s Montee Ball. … Pitt leads the nation with 10.8 tackles for loss per game. It’s also fourth nationally with 12 interceptions.

— The Associated Press

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