ACC Championship Preview: No. 15 Pitt vs. No. 16 Wake Forest

Story posted December 2, 2021 in Sports, CommRadio by Jonathan Draeger

The division champions for the ACC are exactly who everyone thought they would be in the preseason: the Pittsburgh Panthers and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

Both teams finished the regular season with 10-2 records while boasting 7-1 conference records respectively. Based on the teams’ statistics over the season, this will look to be a shootout.

Starting with the Coastal Division champions, Pitt started its first five games laying down the hammer amongst their opponents, scoring 40-plus points against notable Power 5 programs like the Tennessee Volunteers and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. However, an early loss to the Western Michigan Mustangs and a loss to the Miami Hurricanes derailed the Panthers’ season and hopes for a national championship run.

Their success starts with fifth-year senior quarterback Kenny Pickett. The New Jersey native ended his regular season with over 4,000 passing yards on a 67.7 % completion percentage, throwing 40 touchdowns and seven interceptions in the process.

Pickett has turned his last year of eligibility into a career year for himself, putting him in the conversation for one of the most prestigious awards in college football: the Heisman Trophy. Alongside the Heisman, Pickett finds himself at the top of NFL Draft boards, being one of the top quarterbacks taken in the first round.

One of Pickett’s top threats on the outside is wide receiver, Jordan Addison. With 83 catches on 1,353 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns to go along with that, Addison finds himself as a Biletnikoff finalist, which is awarded to the nation’s best wide receiver.

The defense has managed to be a huge force in the trenches, only allowing 92 rushing yards per game. However, the pass defense seems to be a little worrisome, allowing 261.1 yards per game through the air. With that statistic, their opponent may have a field day.

The Wake Forest Demon Deacons have had major success on offense this season, averaging about 43 points per game. The attack is simple, and it starts with the man under center.

Quarterback Sam Hartman elevated his game this season compared to last season as the sophomore posted a 60.3% completion clip for 3,711 yards, 34 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. His threat through the air has been a key factor to Wake Forest’s success.

The threats on the outside have been major factors, especially A.T. Perry and Jaquarii Roberson. Both receivers eclipsed the 1,000 receiving yards mark, but Perry has the edge in the touchdown category with 13 trips to the paydirt compared to Roberson’s eight.

The Demon Deacons’ problem looks similar to Pitt’s, but the trenches pose more of a threat to their front seven. As a unit, Wake Forest allows over 200 yards rushing per game, which can create opportunities for Pitt to establish the run, creating deep ball opportunities later down the road.

As both teams square up in Charlotte, N.C., the data on paper puts these teams in a close match. The quarterbacks do damage in the air and their defenses show similarities.

However, the run defense for Wake Forest can be their Achilles Heel. Head coach Pat Narduzzi of the Pitt Panthers will look to establish the run game first, making the secondary press up more often and opening the seams for deep passes.

Kenny Pickett will make a case as to why he belongs in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy, but his defense will make this game interesting in the process. Sam Hartman will do everything he can to keep Wake Forest in this game, making this matchup a barn burner.

In the end, Pitt will become the first team crowned ACC Champions other than Clemson.

Prediction: Pitt 47, Wake Forest 40

Jonathan Draeger is a second-year student majoring in broadcast journalism. You can contact him at jrd6052@psu.edu.