Finishing at 6-6 (3-5 in-conference) and playing in the MAC is not usually the formula for getting invited to a bowl game. But this year was a little different, as there were 79 bowl eligible teams and 78 spots.
I’m not sure if Toledo declined the invitation or wasn’t invited but that meant that there was a bowl slot for Eastern. Regardless, EMU will end up being a participant in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit's Ford Field, the closest possible bowl destination.
(Which is surely pure coincidence.)
The Pittsburgh Panthers finished the season at 7-5 (4-4) which was good enough for a third place finish in the ACC. They are a year removed from playing Clemson for the ACC Championship last year, and will look to turn around their recent postseason luck; in his five seasons as head coach for Pittsburgh, Pat Narduzzi's crew has been invited to four bowl games and currently 0-3.
As I said at the top, Eastern Michigan finished 6-6, good enough for last place in the MAC West Division (which goes to show how stacked the West was this season.) Chris Creighton is in his sixth season as head coach for Eastern Michigan. In his time there, he has amassed a 28-46 record, with a 1-3 record in the postseason. That is actually pretty amazing given that prior to his tenure, the last bowl the Eagles appeared in was in 1987.
When Pittsburgh takes the field, their offense is led by quarterback Kenny Pickett, who has a 60.9% completion rate and averages 249 yards per game. He has thrown a total of 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions. His two leading targets are Taysir Mack and Marice French. Their rushing attack is led by A.J. Davis who averages 53 yards per game. With an overall rushing attack of 121 yards per game, this appears to be a weakness. They have allowed a total of 29 sacks.
They are facing a defense that has 20 sacks, 11 interceptions and 9 fumble recoveries. That defense hasn’t been particularly good against the run by giving up an average 202.4 yards per game. They’ve been better against the pass, averaging 226 yards per game through the air. Overall, they have given up 30 points per game on the scoreboard. On paper, it looks like they can continue their success against the aerial attack, as Pitt seems to struggle pushing the ball downfield. That defense is lead by leading tackler Kobie Beltram, who also has three fumble recoveries. Also of note is Brody Hoying with four interceptions.
The Eastern Michigan attack is currently led by Mike Glass III. This season, he has a 68.8% passing completion rate for 259 yards per game. He has a total of 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions so far this season. He adds another wrinkle in that he is a pretty mobile quarterback. On the ground, Shaq Vann leads the rushing attack with 74 yards per game. Eastern Michigan can choose from a multitude of recivers as three of them have more than 45 yards per game. These are Arthur Jackson, Quian Williams and Mathew Sexton.
Eastern Michigan may have some trouble setting up their offense as they are facing a defense that has only allowed 107 yards per game on the ground. The Panthers defense is led by Jaylen Twymen with 10.5 sacks and Patrick Jones with 8.5 sacks. If the Panthers have done one thing well, it’s that they have sacked the opposing quarterbacks 49 times this season. I’m hoping with a mobile quarterback, Eastern Michigan can negate some of that.
So what does all this mean? If you look on paper, both teams appear to be fairly evenly matched with Pittsburgh having a slight edge on defense. The yardstick opponent may be the Ohio Bobcats, who Pittsburgh beat by a score of 20-10 (but that was early in the season). With that being said, I almost expect a fairly close game. With a virtual home field advantage, EMU should stay in this game more than they probably should against an opponent with ACC caliber talent. I think Pitt will ultimately win, but it'll be a good game to the end.