NCF Nation: Tony Dorsett

Instant Analysis: Pitt 30, BGSU 27

December, 26, 2013
12/26/13
9:45
PM ET


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.

Notre Dame has the perfect record, the home crowd, the prime-time stage and the more complete team, not to mention three years of frustrating losses as fuel.

Brian Kelly's squad is all set up to finally take down No. 18 Michigan.

There's only one problem: Denard Robinson. Every Notre Dame player, coach or fan will shudder when they see No. 16 in a winged helmet Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium. He's there to ruin their party.

When shamrocks face dreadlocks, dreadlocks win -- in unforgettable fashion.

Ever since Robinson took his first snap in a Michigan uniform -- a 43-yard touchdown run following a fumble in the 2009 opener -- he has been arguably the most exciting player in college football. More accomplished college stars don't have a highlight reel as extensive or as impressive as Robinson's. And no team has been Robinson's foil more than Notre Dame.

The Michigan senior quarterback has tormented Notre Dame the past two seasons.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesLast season, Denard Robinson led Michigan's improbable comeback against Notre Dame.
In 2010, he set Michigan, Big Ten and Notre Dame records in rallying the Wolverines to a 28-24 victory in South Bend. Making his first career road start, Robinson shattered his own team total offense mark with 502 yards; set team records for total plays (68) and single-game road rushing (258 yards); recorded the fifth-highest rushing effort in Michigan history; set the Big Ten quarterback rushing record; recorded the longest run in Notre Dame Stadium history (an 87-yard scoring dash in the the second quarter) and the second-longest ever against the Irish (88 yards by Michigan State's Dick Panin in 1951); and set the single-game total offense record by a Notre Dame opponent.

Robinson also directed the game-winning drive (12 plays, 72 yards), which he of course capped with a 2-yard scoring run with 27 seconds left. Only three FBS quarterbacks had more yards in a game during the 2010 season than Robinson, and none faced a big-time opponent like Notre Dame.

His statistics against Notre Dame last September weren't quite as insane, although not far off (446 yards of total offense, 338 passing yards, 108 rushing yards, four passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown). What stood out is that he did almost all of his work in the fourth quarter. Robinson completed only three of his first 13 pass attempts for 59 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions before firing a 77-yard pass to Junior Hemingway at the end of the third quarter.

"For three quarters," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said, "we did nothing on either side of the ball. Denard, in the fourth quarter, played well."

That's putting it mildly.

Robinson connected on 7 of 10 pass attempts for 202 yards and three touchdowns with one interception in the fourth quarter -- translating to a passer rating of 318.7 (he had 105.2 rating in the first three quarters). Robinson rallied Michigan from a 24-7 deficit entering the quarter and then from a 31-28 deficit in the closing seconds, finding Roy Roundtree from 16 yards out for the winning score with two ticks left.

"Man," Robinson said, "it was a great game."

Robinson wasn't available for an ESPN.com interview this week, and Michigan didn't spend much time discussing its recent triumphs against Notre Dame. Besides, it's hard for anyone -- Robinson, his coaches, his teammates -- to truly pinpoint why he has been so good against Notre Dame.

They'd just like it to continue Saturday night.

"It's interesting," offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "I don't know. He pretty much prepares the same way, from my perspective, for every game. He's just had good games against Notre Dame. ... I'm not sure why."

"I don't know if anybody knows [the reason]," Hoke said. "Every year's different, every game's different, the pieces that are on the field are different. It's just been lucky for us, lucky for Michigan, that he's played well."

"It just happened to be Notre Dame, as it should be when it is a big rivalry like that, that he performs his best," Wolverines wide receiver Devin Gardner said.

Not surprisingly, this week's scouting report for Notre Dame's defenders, who are coming off of a brilliant performance at Michigan State, was short and sweet.

Stop 16.

"He's a superior football player," Kelly said Tuesday. "He's a difference-maker. ... It's about our defense not giving up those big, chunk plays. We gave them up in the running game in [2010] and we gave them up in the passing game in [2011]."

Robinson has Notre Dame's full attention.

"He's the best player on the field," Kelly said.

Robinson has played only two full games against Notre Dame -- he had 21 rushing yards and no passing yards against the Irish in 2009 -- but already owns the career record for total offense by an Irish opponent (969 yards). He needs four passing touchdowns to tie the record for most against Notre Dame held by former USC star Matt Leinart. He probably won't catch Tony Dorsett for the career rushing record against Notre Dame (754 yards) or Steve Stenstrom for the career passing record against the Irish (1,020 yards).

Still, his impact in the rivalry won't soon be forgotten, especially if he leads Michigan to a fourth consecutive win against the Irish on Saturday night.

"He'll play his best against us," Kelly said. "We're prepared for that."

WolverineNation's Michael Rothstein contributed to this report.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Several minutes after Saturday's game ended, there was a knock at the back door of Michigan State's media trailer.

When it opened, a parade of Spartans players walked through. The five starting offensive linemen. The fullbacks. The tight ends. Ten players in all. The 11th man, the star of the day, the one whom everyone had come to hear, brought up the rear.

 
  AP Photo/Al Goldis
 Javon Ringer rushed for 201 yards and two touchdowns to carry Michigan State to a 23-7 win over Notre Dame on Saturday.

"I can do nothing without these guys paving the way for me," Michigan State running back Javon Ringer said. "We were able to win because of these guys, not because of me or because of our receivers. It came from the guys up front. I told y'all they should be doing the interviews instead of me."

It's no surprise that Ringer once again deferred the credit for his latest masterpiece to Michigan State's trailblazers. But it's time to give the Spartans senior running back his due.

With Beanie Wells hobbled and P.J. Hill splitting carries, Ringer has emerged as the Big Ten's best back and one of the best in the country. After four games, he's the obvious choice for league MVP after another yeoman's effort -- 39 carries, 201 yards, 2 touchdowns -- in a 23-7 win against Notre Dame.

Ringer became the first Michigan State player to record back-to-back 200-yard rushing performances. Through four games Ringer has 700 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on a nation-high 143 carries.

"He's the best back in the country," Spartans quarterback Brian Hoyer said. "I go and look on ESPN.com and they've got the Heisman hopefuls or whatever. Javon Ringer should be in there. He's got to have close to 1,000 yards by now. And for him to be that type of person says even more."

Hoyer isn't the only one putting a plug in for Ringer.

"I'll put my vote in for Javon Ringer for the Heisman Trophy," Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said to open his news conference. "That needs to start getting picked up a little bit because that guy's a machine."

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