2021 ACC Championship Preview: Wake and Pitt Square Off in Unlikely Matchup

by | Dec 4, 2021 | ACC, Analysis, Football, Pittsburgh, Predictions, Previews, Sports, Wake Forest

Photo courtesy of Wake Forest athletics

Atlantic Coast Conference play has come to a close, and with it, two division champions have emerged.

The Pittsburgh Panthers have won the ACC’s Coastal division. Heisman Trophy candidate and quarterback Kenny Pickett has led the Panthers to their first 10-win season since 2009 and their second-ever ACC Championship appearance.

The ACC’s Atlantic division will be represented by the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Wake Forest also boasts a prolific offense, primarily focused on the passing attack, led by quarterback Sam Hartman.

Wake Forest will be hunting for its second ACC Championship victory. Its lone appearance in the ACC title game came in 2006 when the Demon Deacons eked out a 9-6 victory over Georgia Tech. The Demon Deacons have claim to two ACC titles, but the first came in 1970 — long before the conference established a championship game.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, is searching for its first ACC title. Since joining the conference in 2013, Pitt has made one appearance. In 2018, the Panthers fell in the title game to Clemson, 42-10.

Pittsburgh vs. Wake Forest

  • Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
  • Saturday, Dec 4 at 8 p.m. ET (ABC)
  • Pitt -3, O/U 71
  • Last Game:
    • Pitt: W, 31-14 at Syracuse
    • Wake: W, 41-10 at Boston College

When Pittsburgh’s On Offense

The Panther offense has made a huge leap from good to great this year. Pittsburgh returned an experienced receiving corps in 2021. This group, when paired with quarterback Kenny Pickett’s emergence, makes for a scary passing game.

Pickett’s rise to stardom has been one of the better stories this season. The senior signal caller had been a good game manager thus far for Pittsburgh. This season, however, he has rocketed into the conversation as a truly elite Heisman candidate. Pickett has just north of 4,000 yards passing and 40 touchdowns with just seven interceptions on the year.

In addition to Pickett, Pittsburgh has one of the nation’s top receivers in sophomore Jordan Addison. Addison is one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, which is given to the nation’s top wideout. He has 85 receptions for 1,353 yards and 17 touchdowns on the year.

Pittsburgh’s offense will be challenged by Wake Forest’s solid pass defense. The Demon Deacons are 50th in passing defense and are tied for seventh nationally with 12 team interceptions.

Wake Forest has been downright bad at stopping the rush. It ranks just 118th in the country in rushing defense, allowing 210 yards per game on the ground. Pittsburgh’s identity has not been forged as a running team, but it has taken advantage of subpar rushing defenses thus far this season.

When Wake Forest Is On Offense

Much like Pittsburgh, Wake Forest’s offense is fast and pass-heavy. The Demon Deacons have benefited from the extra year of COVID-19 eligibility as they bring back a plethora of super-seniors.

Wake Forest’s offense is particularly boasted by one of the best receiving duos in the country. Jaquarii Roberson and A.T. Perry combine for 2,136 receiving yards and 21 of the team’s 34 receiving touchdowns.

The Demon Deacon passing attack greatly benefits by also having one of the better signal callers in the country in Sam Hartman. The sophomore quarterback has the seventh-highest quarterback rating in the country, tallying 3,711 yards and 34 touchdowns with 10 interceptions.

Pittsburgh’s defense relies heavily on bringing pressure, but it needs to be careful leaving Roberson and Perry on islands outside. Even so, the Panthers have had no issues getting to quarterbacks in time this season. They are first in the conference and second in the country in team sacks with 42.

Pittsburgh also boasts the top rushing defense in the ACC. Wake Forest has a solid rushing duo in Christian Beal-Smith and Christian Turner, so the Panthers’ attempts to shut them down may open up the passing game.

Final Verdict

This game could end up being one of the more entertaining conference championships this season. Two high-level quarterbacks and a multitude of talented offensive weapons mean that points will likely come easy in this one. This game will be decided by which defense can get a handful of stops, and who can force the most turnovers.

Prediction: Pitt, 49-42. Pittsburgh not only doesn’t give the ball away much, but it also has the better defense. Touchdowns will be plentiful, but the Panthers will score the last one that decides the outcome.

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