NCF Nation: pizza bowl 2013

Instant Analysis: Pitt 30, BGSU 27

December, 26, 2013

Pitt withstood the loss of quarterback Tom Savage and held off Bowling Green, 30-27, to win the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit and clinch its first winning record (7-6) under second-year coach Paul Chryst. Here is how it went down.

It was over when: Chris Blewitt hit a 39-yard field goal to give Pitt the 30-27 lead with 1 minute, 17 seconds left in the game. Blewitt went 3-for-4 on the night and was 2-for-3 in the second half. On Bowling Green's ensuing drive, Aaron Donald and Tyrone Ezell came up with consecutive sacks of Matt Johnson to set up a fourth-and-40 with 31 seconds left. The Falcons' desperate, multi-lateral attempt from their end zone was entertaining for a few seconds, but it eventually ended with the Panthers taking over possession to secure the win.

Game ball goes to: James Conner was absolutely phenomenal for Pitt, carrying the ball 26 times for 229 yards and a touchdown. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Conner broke Tony Dorsett's school record for rushing yards for a bowl game (202, set versus Georgia in the 1977 Sugar), with the true freshman accounting for nearly half of what he gained through 12 regular-season games this season (570). Oh, and as a pass-rusher on Bowling Green's final possession, Conner drew a crucial hold on Jacob Bennett that preceded Pitt's back-to-back sacks.

Stat of the game: Pitt outgained Bowling Green by a margin of 487 yards to 290. Considering that the Falcons entered the contest atop the Mid-American Conference in every single major defensive category (No. 8 nationally in total D), and considering that the Panthers were without their starting quarterback for much of the contest, and considering that Bowling Green was coming off a 574-yard performance at Ford Field in its previous outing, against Northern Illinois, this was nothing short of staggering.

Unsung hero: Chad Voytik stepped in when Savage went down with a rib injury and delivered a performance that had to have put a smile on Pitt fans' faces. The redshirt freshman completed 8 of 13 passes for 124 yards and carried it two times for 24 yards with a touchdown. Can't ask for much more than that.

What it means for Pitt: The Panthers exit Year 1 of the ACC era with a winning record, showing tangible progress under the Chryst regime in Year 2. More importantly, they closed out the 2013 season with young faces dominating the show. While Donald, Savage and Devin Street will all be missed, Voytik and Conner made big plays all night, and true freshman Tyler Boyd further cemented himself as one of the top receivers in the nation to keep an eye on moving forward, as he closed his rookie campaign with eight catches for 173 yards and a 54-yard punt return for a touchdown.

What it means for Bowling Green: Forget about this and move forward. The Falcons had a wonderful season, winning their first MAC title in 20 years and ruining then-undefeated NIU's BCS-bowl hopes. Their coach, Dave Clawson, got the head-coaching job at Wake Forest for his efforts. (Adam Scheier served as interim coach for this game.) And while the defense will not like the way this season ended, there is plenty ahead to be excited about, especially on offense, as Johnson (20-of-32, 273 yards, two touchdowns, no turnovers Thursday) returns for his redshirt junior season under new coach Dino Babers, whose quarterback lineage includes FCS player of the year Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois) and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III (Baylor).

To watch the trophy presentation of the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, click here.

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl preview

December, 26, 2013

Pitt and Bowling Green square off at 6 ET Thursday night in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Here are a few players, keys and storylines to watch when action kicks off in Detroit:

Who to watch: Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald takes the field for his final college game after a regular season that saw him win four national awards and earn unanimous All-America honors, becoming the school's first player to gain that distinction since Larry Fitzgerald in 2003. Donald is capable of changing a game in a number of ways, disrupting the backfield (26.5 tackles for loss) while taking down quarterbacks (10 sacks). And the man he will be chasing, Falcons signal-caller Matt Johnson, is a dual-threat gunslinger who is coming off a statement win in the MAC title game.

What to watch: Bowling Green returns to Ford Field less than three weeks after winning the league title in a surprising rout over Northern Illinois. Johnson, its quarterback, completed 21 of 27 passes and tallied 426 total yards and five touchdowns in the 47-27 upset. In his first full season as a starter, the sophomore has completed better than 64 percent of his passes for 3,195 yards with 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Johnson has rushed for 268 yards and five more scores as well. The undersized Harrisburg, Pa., native did not receive an offer from the Panthers coming out of Bishop McDevitt, and a number of his Falcons teammates from Pennsylvania were overlooked by the in-state school as well. This has not been lost on them as they look to take down an ACC opponent before entering a 2014 campaign with very large expectations.

Why to watch: As good as Johnson has been, Bowling Green has gotten this far because of its defense, which leads the MAC in scoring D, total D, rushing D and passing D. That last category is one to keep a close eye on, as Pitt boasts a pair of extremely talented receivers in Devin Street and Tyler Boyd, both of whom senior quarterback Tom Savage developed an early rapport with in his first year as the starter, helping the Panthers get to another bowl in coach Paul Chryst's second season -- no small feat considering the step up to the ACC this year from the Big East. Pitt also has a signature victory over Notre Dame on its resume.

Prediction: Bowling Green 31, Pitt 26. With interim coach Adam Scheier at the helm, the Falcons offense gets off to a hot start and delivers a win that leads to plenty of hype entering Year 1 of the Dino Babers era in 2014.

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl

December, 8, 2013

Pittsburgh Panthers (6-6) vs. Bowling Green Falcons (10-3)

Dec. 26, 6 p.m. ET, Detroit (ESPN)

The Panthers got to six wins this season, but this team was pretty unpredictable for most of the year. One week, they lose to Navy, a few weeks later they beat Notre Dame. Still, becoming bowl eligible in Year 1 in the ACC should serve as accomplishment given all the unknowns.

[+] EnlargeTyler Boyd
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsTyler Boyd led the Panthers in receiving as a freshman.
What was problematic for Pittsburgh to overcome this season were major inconsistencies on the offensive line, in the run game and in the secondary. Special teams mistakes proved to be costly at times, too, including in a 34-27 loss to North Carolina that featured two Tar Heels punt returns for scores.

Without an effective run game, Pitt struggled to protect quarterback Tom Savage and find a rhythm on offense. Pitt ranked No. 112 in the nation in rushing offense, and No. 118 in sacks allowed (41), a continuing problem the Panthers have been unable to fix over the past three seasons.

The bright spot, of course, was the performance of All-American candidate Aaron Donald, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Donald leads the nation in tackles for loss per game (2.2), and his 26.5 total tackles for loss ranks sixth in ACC history. Donald also has 10 sacks on the season, ranking him second in the nation in active career total sacks with 28.5.

Pitt also got major contributions from freshmen this year. Receiver Tyler Boyd set the school record for receptions by a freshman with 77 and hit the 1,000-yard mark on the season. He is the first Pitt player to achieve that feat since Jon Baldwin in 2009. Twelve true freshmen played for Pitt this season, giving the Panthers and coach Paul Chryst hope for improvement to come in the years ahead. -- Andrea Adelson


[+] EnlargeMatt Johnson
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsMatt Johnson threw five touchdown passes in the MAC championship game.
Bowling Green cost the MAC millions of BCS dollars, but the Falcons don’t need to apologize.

They knocked Northern Illinois out of a second straight BCS bowl by winning the MAC championship game 47-27 on Friday. The impressive victory capped a breakthrough season under fifth-year head coach Dave Clawson, as Bowling Green lost only one conference game (to Toledo) and played Mississippi State to within a point on the road.

Like most successful MAC clubs, the Falcons thrive on offense, averaging more than 35 points per game. Sophomore Travis Greene ranks among the top running backs in the FBS with 1,555 yards, and sophomore Matt Johnson has thrown for 3,195 yards and 23 touchdowns -- five of those coming against Northern Illinois. But Bowling Green also is ranked in the top 10 nationally in both points allowed and total defense.

No wonder Clawson has become a hot coaching commodity. BCS or not, the Falcons will be hard to handle in the postseason. -- Brian Bennett