Little Caesars Pizza Bowl Primer: BGSU vs. Pittsburgh
By Lana Sache
The ACC team might be thinking they'll play another weak MAC team, but Pittsburgh could be in for a big upset in Detroit if they try to take it easy. In fact, the Panthers enter as a four-point underdog.
Less than three weeks after the MAC championship, Bowling Green will play at the same field with the same attitude. Nobody expected them to win a title game, and many are still doubting their credibility. For Pittsburgh, this is a confidence booster. They have had many tough losses, and sending off seniors Tom Savage and Aaron Donald with a win would be nice.
Motivation: After suffering many upsets this season, like the embarrassing 24-21 loss to Navy, this team is lucky to make it to a bowl game. They are happy avoiding another trip to Birmingham, where they spent the last three seasons at the BBVA Compass Bowl, but a game against a non-BCS conference school is not how they envisioned their postseason. Without Donald and a blocked extra point in the Syracuse game, they aren't even getting this chance in Detroit. This game is all about showing their fans, but more importantly themselves, that they deserve more than what they’ve been handed.
If You’ve Never Seen Them: This team is blessed: They have Donald. He is in beast mode 100 percent of the time, and continues to get better every game. He has had an impressive season with 26 1/2 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and four forced fumbles. Without him, the defense is mediocre. From their season, you can see they are highly variable in production and results. The offense is more constant, with Tyler Boyd and Devin Street catching whatever comes their way. The two have combined for nearly 2,000 receiving yards, and with an arm like Savage, their offense could lead an upset of BGSU.
Weakness: Let’s face it, if Donald gets injured, their defense will struggle. BGSU racked up at least 45 points in four of its last five games, and the Panthers have no room to mess up. On offense, running backs James Connor and Isaac Bennett will need to step to the plate. They are wishy-washy every game, so their self-efficacy must be high. The Panthers will rely on them, since they cannot rely on the offensive line. Not one guy on the line has been in his position prior to this year, and the unit allowed 41 sacks and 85 tackles for loss. Savage will once again be forced to make quick decisions.
Motivation: With a win like they had against NIU in the MAC championship game, the Falcons are fired up and ready to take on this game. They are here to prove the MAC is to be reckoned with, and to prove their stability on both sides of the ball will prevail. More than anything, they want respect. Even with their last five consecutive wins, they need this win to get some. Coach Dave Clawson left for Wake Forest earlier this month, so there's a new man in charge: Adam Scheier. He's ready to lead as interim head coach and prove to doubters that it will not shake the foundation the team already has.
If You’ve Never Seen Them:This team has the MAC's best defense and the conference's second-most productive running back. Clearly, they are comfortable relying on both sides to pull through. Sixteen players combined to rack up 28 sacks this season. Quarterback Matt Johnson, also rated best in the conference, is extremely accurate and great at play fakes. Many times, cameramen cannot keep track of him, and with Donald looking to take him down, you can count on tricks coming from the Falcons. This game could come down to this Donald-Johnson matchup. Johnson isn’t a “running” quarterback, but depending on his coverage, he may need to start becoming one. Luckily, he has the confidence of five rushing touchdowns, and may need to add more this game.
Weakness: This offense just hasn’t come across anyone close to Donald. So far, they have has allowed 31 sacks. They struggle with protection at times, yet still lead the league in third-down offense. With a defense as consistent as it has been, it can be hard to tell if and when the Falcons will have to rely on their offense and come up short. If they have it their way, we will see the Panthers' upset in Detroit replayed three weeks later.