Pitt shakes up College Football Playoff picture with upset of No. 2 Clemson

Pittsburgh trailed Clemson for much of Saturday’s game in Death Valley by a single point because of a missed extra point by kicker Chris Blewitt.

He made up for it when it mattered most.

Blewitt drilled a 48-yarder in the game’s final seconds to give Pitt the biggest upset of the year over the second-ranked Tigers, 43-42.

The Tigers racked up 630 yards of offense — 580 through the air via Deshaun Watson — but hurt themselves with turnovers, allowing Pitt to hang around. And while the Clemson offense scored for much of the game seemingly at will, its defense had a heck of a time slowing down the Panthers offense.

Because Blewitt doinked an extra point off the upright in the second quarter, Pitt trailed 28-27 at the half. As the teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, that point continued to loom large.

Clemson took a 42-34 lead late in the third quarter, and looked primed to make it a two-score game on a fourth-quarter drive until Watson, who set an ACC record for passing yards in a single game, threw an ill-advised interception — his third of the game — near the goal line.

His costly mistake came on a second-and-goal play from the three-yard line. He looked toward tight end Jordan Leggett in tight coverage, and linebacker Saleem Brightwell read the play beautifully. Watson missed Brightwell in the underneath coverage and threw it right to him.

Brightwell returned the ball deep into Clemson territory, and the Panthers scored on a 20-yard James Conner run four plays later.

Still, the extra point loomed. Instead of attempting a game-tying extra point, the Panthers trailed 42-40 and were stopped on the necessary two-point try. Clemson then regained possession and had just over five minutes to run the clock out. Things looked promising until the Tigers were faced with a fourth-and-1 at the Pitt 35. Clemson dialed up a pitch play, and Wayne Gallman was stuffed, giving the ball back to the Panthers with just over a minute to go.

From there, the Panthers worked their way into Clemson territory to set up Blewitt’s chance at redemption. The senior has had an inconsistent career at Pitt, but has a big leg and has hit quite a few clutch kicks throughout his career. This one was the biggest yet. It had plenty of leg and silenced the raucous Clemson crowd.

blewitt
blewitt

The win, the program’s first over an AP Top 5 team since 2007, clinches bowl eligibility for Pitt (now 6-4) and breaks a brief two-game losing streak.

The implications are far more wide-reaching for Clemson, which had won 21 straight at home and 22 straight in the regular season. Not only did the Tigers blow a chance to clinch the ACC Atlantic, this loss puts their College Football Playoff hopes in serious jeopardy. The Tigers are still in the mix, no doubt, but this loss opens the door wide open for teams like Ohio State and Louisville.

Clemson has cut it close all season long. This was the Tigers’ sixth game decided by seven points or less, and they finally came out on the wrong end of that high-wire act.

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Pittsburgh tight end Scott Orndoff (83) tries to conduct the team band after defeating Clemson 43-42 in an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Pittsburgh tight end Scott Orndoff (83) tries to conduct the team band after defeating Clemson 43-42 in an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

Sam Cooper is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!