Pittsburgh-Bowling Green Preview
After lighting up the scoreboard in the MAC championship game,
Matt Johnson and Bowling Green are returning to Ford Field.
While that familiarity could work to their advantage, interim
coach Adam Scheier will be calling the shots this time around.
The Falcons go for a school record-tying 11th victory when they
face Pittsburgh in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on Thursday
Johnson got the best of Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch as
Bowling Green (10-3) handed then-No. 16 Northern Illinois its first
loss, 47-27 in the MAC title game Dec. 6. Johnson posted career
highs with 393 passing yards and five touchdowns as the Falcons
rolled to their fifth consecutive win.
“Bowling Green was impressive not only in their MAC Championship
win, but all season long and we have a competitive game of football
ahead,” Panthers coach Paul Chryst said.
The Falcons are fifth in the nation with 14.8 points allowed per
game and are averaging 35.4 to rank 27th. It remains to be seen how
much – if anything – will change with Scheier at the helm.
Scheier replaces former coach Dave Clawson, who left to take the
job at Wake Forest. He previously served as special teams
coordinator. Bowling Green hired Eastern Illinois’ Dino Babers as
coach on Dec. 18.
“You go from winning a championship one day as a position coach
to suddenly being in front of the whole team the next day as the
head coach, getting them ready for a bowl game,” said Scheier, in
his fifth season with the Falcons. “I’ve never been through this,
and neither have been any of the players. They’ve been playing for
coach Clawson since they got here, and now it is going to be
Bowling Green is 1-2 against Pittsburgh after taking the last
matchup 27-17 at Heinz Field in 2008.
“We had a players-only meeting and the senior leadership got up
and reminded all of the guys that this is our program, and that we
need to finish off what we’ve achieved thus far,” Falcons defensive
back BooBoo Gates said. “It doesn’t matter that coach (Clawson) is
gone. We need to step up and do this.”
While the Panthers (6-6) posted signature wins over then-No. 24
Notre Dame and at Duke, they dropped four of six to conclude their
first season in the ACC.
“This has been a fun season, but it certainly hasn’t always gone
the way we would have liked,” Chryst said. “I think we’ve got the
program headed in the right direction, and we’re bringing back the
tradition of Pitt football, but we’re still at the point where it
is hard to say what is going to happen on a week-to-week
Pittsburgh is led by senior Tom Savage, who’s thrown for 2,834
yards and 21 touchdowns. Keeping him upright could prove crucial,
as Savage has been sacked an FBS-high 41 times.
Savage will surely be looking for his favorite target Tyler Boyd
early and often. Boyd is fourth in the conference with 1,001
receiving yards and had 77 receptions to break Larry Fitzgerald’s
“It means a lot to me,” Boyd said. “Where I come from, all we do
is win, so I always think about winning first and statistics
Johnson, meanwhile, will need to be wary of star defensive
tackle Aaron Donald, who collected more than his fair share of
hardware this month. The senior won the Nagurski Trophy, Lombardi
Award, Outland Trophy and Bednarik Award to become one of the most
decorated players in school history.
“I am just overwhelmed with all the wonderful honors,” he said.
“This isn’t about me, it is about Pitt and my coaches and
Donald leads the nation with an average of 2.2 tackles for loss
and is tied for 13th with 10 sacks. Despite his individual efforts,
Pittsburgh is giving up 27.2 points per game to rank 11th in the
While the Panthers are making their sixth straight bowl
appearance, they’re coming off back-to-back losses in the BBVA
Compass Bowl. After falling 28-6 to SMU in 2011, Pittsburgh
suffered a 38-17 defeat to Mississippi last year.
The Panthers are seeking their first winning season since going
8-5 in 2010.