PHOTO: USA Today Sports
Bowling Green Falcons (10-3) vs Pittsburgh Panthers (6-6)
Thursday, Dec 26th @ 6 pm (ESPN)
Line: Bowling Green by 4.5
How Bowling Green got here: Bowling Green started the season at 5-3 with losses to Indiana, Mississippi State and Toledo. They won the next four games by a combined score of 176 to 17 (two of those wins came against bowl teams: Ohio and Buffalo). Then, the Falcons shut down Jordan Lynch and NIU in the MAC Championship Game 47-27. The Falcons come into this game on a five game win streak and because of their success, head coach Dave Clawson has taken the Wake Forest head coaching position and will not coach in the bowl game. Adam Scheier, who usually serves as special teams and tight end coach, will be the Falcons interim coach for this game.
How Pitt got here: After starting 3-1, the Panthers went 3-5 down the stretch but all of their losses have come at the hands of bowl teams. The three best wins this season by the Panthers have been over Duke (58-55 on 9/21), Notre Dame (28-21 on 11/9) and Syracuse (17-16 on 11/23). The final ten games the Panthers played this season were decided by 11 or less points.
For Bowling Green to win: On offense, it's important for the Falcons to find balance and be able to run the football against Aaron Donald and the Panthers. In two of their losses (Indiana and Toledo), the Falcons had their lowest ypc averages of the season. It will also be important for the Falcons defense to get pressure on Tom Savage (Pitt led the ACC in sacks allowed) and make him uncomfortable. Savage is prone to make errors but if the Falcons don't get pressure on him, he could make their lives miserable.
For Pitt to win: The Panthers need to be better in the red zone on defense. This year they finished 13th in the ACC at allowing scores in the red zone (92.11%) and 8th in allowing TDs in the red zone (60.53%). They also need to limit the big play. In 2013, they were next to last in the league allowing plays of 30 or more yards (28 total). On offense, Pitt prefers to run but the running game hasn't really been there this season. The Panthers need to establish the run early so Tyler Boyd and Devin Street can have some room later to catch passes.
Key Player (Bowling Green): Matt Johnson, QB. Against NIU in the MAC Championship Game, the QB that was on the mark was Johnson (not Jordan Lynch) as he threw 5 TD passes. Oh yeah, Johnson still has a little chip on his shoulder about being passed over by Pitt during the recruiting process. If Johnson gets hot early, it could be a long day for the Panthers defense.
Key Player (Pitt): Aaron Donald, DT. Donald won the Outland, Bednarik, Lombardi and the Nagurski postseason Awards. Oh my! He needs to disrupt the line of scrimmage and make things difficult for Matt Johnson and the Falcons rushing attack.
Key Stat: Bowling Green only turned the ball over 11 times this season which put them third in the Nation (behind only Navy and Louisville). Pitt was 104th in the Nation in takeaways with just 16.