CB Tankersley, No. 3 Clemson look for strong game vs. Pitt
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Clemson cornerback Cordrea Tankersley wants to finish the season the right way.
He is the lone returning starter from the third-ranked Tigers' secondary last year, coming back for a final season and another shot at the national championship.
Tankersley can help Clemson (9-0, 6-0 Atlantic Coast Conference; CFP No. 2 ) take a step toward that goal Saturday against Pitt (5-4, 2-3), a win giving the Tigers the ACC Atlantic and a spot in the league's title game.
''It (feels) like we just started spring workouts last week,'' Tankersley said. ''It's really flying by now that it's my senior season.''
Tankersley and Clemson's other seniors will take their solo run down Memorial Stadium's hill as part of senior day festivities. He understands there's much more to play for, starting with the game vs. the Panthers.
Tankersley, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound defensive back considered a potential first-rounder in the NFL draft, feels he will leave the program better than when he arrived and deserving of their No. 2 spot in College Football Playoff ranking.
''This program is set basically forever,'' Tankersley said. ''We can play the best, Alabama, Michigan, you name it.''
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said his team began the championship phase of its season last week with a 54-0 victory over Syracuse. He said the Tigers have stayed focused in preparation and risen to whatever challenge they face.
''These guys have really bought into what we do and how we do it,'' he said. ''It's just been a fun team.''
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi is hoping to stop the fun times this week. He said his team is building itself in Clemson's model, starting with players who understand what it takes to succeed on the field.
''Guys that go out and play with heart and get after it and give you everything they've got, have a chance,'' Narduzzi said.
Some other things to watch when third-ranked Clemson plays Pitt:
SAYING GOODBYE: Seniors won't be the only ones taking a final home bow for Clemson on Saturday. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said four juniors – quarterback Deshaun Watson, tailback Wayne Gallman and receivers Mike Williams and Artavis Scott – will be honored, too, since their plans are to forego their final seasons and turn pro.
TURNOVER TROUBLE: The Panthers were able to overcome their various defensive issues early in the season by showing a nose for the ball, creating nine turnovers over their first five games. Those kinds of plays have disappeared in recent weeks. Pitt has taken it away just once since the first weekend of October.
STELLAR PLAYERS: The matchup between Pitt and Clemson – the only time they played previously was the 1977 Gator Bowl – also features the past two ACC players of the year in Panthers running back James Conner and Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson. Conner has 712 yards and 11 TDs this fall. Watson has thrown 24 touchdown passes, two behind ACC leader Lamar Jackson of Louisville.
HISTORY LESSON: Pitt's last landscape shaking moment came in 2007, when the Panthers went to rival West Virginia and pulled off a 13-9 upset to spoil the Mountaineers' chance of making the BCS title game. Don't expect Narduzzi to dig into the archives, however, in search of motivation. Today ''is what we sell, not what happened back in 1978 or `76 or `09,'' he said. ''It's what happens, you know, this Saturday. We've just got to play the best football we can on Saturday. Nothing else matters.''
OH CANADA: The Panthers are averaging a robust 37 points a game (third in the ACC) despite being limited in the passing game, a testament to first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada's creativity. Pitt uses a variety of misdirection and jet sweeps to get wide receivers involved in the running game. Offensive tackle Brian O'Neill also has a pair of touchdowns this season out of unique formations that have helped the 6-foot-6, 300-pound converted tight end get open.
AP Sports Writer Will Graves contributed to this report.
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