Little Caesars Bowl breakdown: Pitt vs. Bowling Green
Pitt’s offense has had its moments — racking up 598 yards and 58 points against Duke, 527 yards vs. New Mexico and 501 on Miami — but overall it has struggled to find any consistency.
The Panthers (6-6) are 13th in the ACC and 102nd nationally in total offense (351.8) and five times failed to score more than 17 points and allowed quarterback Tom Savage to be sacked 41 times. That could all lead to trouble against a Bowling Green (10-3) defense that comes in ranked fifth in the nation in scoring defense and second in red zone defense.
That defense, coupled with an offense that has scored an average of 44.6 points the last five games (including 47 on Northern Illinois in the MAC title game) have resulted in no one getting closer than 20 points against the Falcons since an Oct. 26 loss to Toledo.
The onus is on Pitt’s offense to put together sustained drives early, because Savage and Co. haven’t been adept at scoring in bunches.
Aaron Donald. The defensive tackle is an absolute force, totaling an FBS-best 26 1/2 tackles for loss, with 10 sacks, 54 tackles and four forced fumbles. It’s a resume that won him the Nagurski, Lombardi, Outland and Bednarik trophies and first-team All-American honors.
"He is, without question, the most disruptive force in college football," Bowling Green interim coach Adam Scheier told the ‘Detroit Free Press’. "He’s as good as they come in college football."
Like Pitt, Bowling Green’s offense has struggled with protection, sitting 101st in sacks allowed (31), which would seem to play into Donald having a big sendoff in his final game in a Panthers uniform.
The Falcons lead the nation in time of possession (34:16 per), and the ability of Donald, or the to disrupt QB Matt Johnson will be key to Pitt cooling off that streaking Bowling Green offense.
2010 — Despite appearing in three straight bowl games, the Panthers haven’t had a winning record since going 8-5 in 2010 when they capped that year with a win over Kentucky in the Compass Bowl. Pitt lost that same bowl in 2011 and 2012, to SMU and Ole Miss, respectively, to finish 6-7. They’ll be trying to avoid the same fate this time around, though in a different location.
With Dave Clawson off to Wake Forest, special teams coordinator Scheier will coach the Falcons. That’s dangerous territory considering the last 18 coaches to take over in-season went 7-11 in bowl games. But considering how strong the defense has been, most notably holding then-No. 14 Northern Illinois to 27 points, and how erratic Pitt is offensively, strength should outweigh the upheaval.
The Pick: Bowling Green 31-20