It wasn’t a perfect first season for Pittsburgh in the ACC, but coming away with a bowl game win in the Little Caesars Bowl (30-27) over Bowling Green after a late field goal by Chris Blewitt, mostly built by the ability of James Conner on the ground and Tyler Boyd as a return man and receiver is a pretty sweet way to end the season.
With the game tied at 27 and 4:42 left to play, the Panthers decided they weren’t going to throw the ball one single time. They drove 51 yards on 7 plays solely on the ground, with Conner alone running for 32 of them, getting a lot of help from Chad Voytik who rushed for 19 yards in between Conner’s dominance. That set up a 39-yard field goal for Blewitt, who was making his third field goal of the game. Bowling Green, enjoying a strong performance from quarterback Matt Johnson (20-32, 272 yards, 2 touchdown passes) couldn’t get the job done, being driven back six yards after penalties, sacks and a desperate lateral play all went wrong.
This day was about breaking records for Boyd and Conner, passing some mighty big names in Pitt’s illustrious history, which the school is trying to bring back by moving to a higher paying conference, trying to improve itself while College Football keeps changing and shifting.
Conner ran for 229 yards on 26 carries, scoring a touchdown on 15-yard run during the first quarter. Conner broke a Pittsburgh bowl record for yards rushing held by Tony Dorsett; 202 yards in Pitt’s win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1977. His Freshman season wasn’t an explosive one, but he is just one of the reasons Pitt are expecting something a lot better than 3-5 in conference play next season.
Boyd caught 8 passes for 173 yards, quite impressive considering Pitt threw the ball only 22 times all game, completing 13 passes. He didn’t score a touchdown as a receiver, but he did return a punt 54 yards in the second quarter to put Pitt 17-3 up, right before Bowling Green began its big comeback which put them in the lead by the time Tyler Tate hit a field goal in the third quarter.
Gordon Jones, with 163 receiving yards, held the previous school record for yards in a bowl game, coming a year after Dorsett set his. Boyd also broke the records for most receiving yards by a Freshman for the school, surpassing Larry Fitzgerald, reaching 1001 yards.
One player Pittsburgh are going to miss is defensive end Aaron Donald, an All-American in his senior season and probably a very high draft pick in a few months. Donald played a big part in stopping Bowling Green during that final drive, and was a force of nature the Falcons had a lot of trouble dealing with all game long. However, even with him gone, the future looks quite nice for Pitt at the moment.
Paul Chryst, Pitt head coach – We obviously have some great young talent, and that’s why we are so confident about the future of this program. We think we’re in great shape going forward.
Good enough to be ranked next season? Probably not, but being a factor in the race for the top spot in the Coastal division doesn’t sound that far fetched.