There should be no shortage of offense when No. 15 Pittsburgh and No. 16 Wake Forest meet in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game Saturday night in Charlotte, N.C.
So whichever team’s defense figures out how to make an impact might turn out in the best shape in a matchup of 10-2 teams that made rapid rises this season.
Wake Forest is third nationally in scoring at 42.9 points per game. Pittsburgh is next at 42.8. This is the first ACC championship game with two teams averaging more than 40 points apiece.
“I kind of hope that we can get a few stops,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. “It will be hard.”
The Pittsburgh defense has improved weekly, coach Pat Narduzzi said.
“A lot of points are going to be scored,” Narduzzi said. “We’re going to try to eliminate the scoring (from Wake Forest) and try to score at least one more point than Wake Forest does.”
Pittsburgh has its first 10-win regular season since 1981. Wake Forest has reached a double-digit win total for the second time.
Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett was selected as the All-ACC first-team quarterback. Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman was the second-team choice.
“We’ve been saying every week is a championship (and) now we’re finally in the big one,” Pickett said.
With 40 touchdown throws this year, Pickett is one shy of the single-season ACC record held by former Clemson player Deshaun Watson. Teammate Jordan Addison leads the country with 17 touchdown catches.
“It’s not just (Pickett), and he’d probably be the first person to say that,” Clawson said. “But he is certainly the engine that makes them go.”
In the last nine games, Hartman has thrown for 3,020 yards and 28 touchdowns passes.
“Our secondary is going to have to be on their toes,” Narduzzi said. “They’re where they are for a reason. They do it their way. They do it the Wake Forest way.”
Pittsburgh and Wake Forest have met just once previously, the Panthers posting a 34-13 road victory in 2018 to secure the Coastal Division title that day. Pickett threw for three touchdowns in that game.
Wake Forest unseated Clemson as the Atlantic Division representative for the title game. The reason the Demon Deacons, who lost to Clemson just two weeks ago, gained that spot was a one-game difference in the standings on North Carolina State and Clemson. That margin resulted, in part, from Clemson’s loss at Pittsburgh.
Now, the stakes will be even higher.
“You certainly want to appreciate the moment you’re in,” Wake Forest linebacker Luke Masterson said. “But at the same time, you want to take that same approach you’ve taken all year.”
Clawson said having a breakout season was possible when assessing the situation in the preseason. Contending for a championship became a reality.
“That’s the goal every year,” Clawson said. “To have a year like this you have to be a little bit fortunate. That fortune comes in winning close games. I think we won those close games because of our maturity and our ability to execute.”
Wake Forest won in 2006 in its only previous appearance in the ACC title game, defeating Georgia Tech in Jacksonville, Fla. Pittsburgh’s other appearance in the championship game came in 2018, when it lost to Clemson.
Wake Forest played at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium with limited capacity to end the 2020 season with a bowl loss to Wisconsin.
–Field Level Media