December 28, 2013

Recapping the Pizza Bowl

Filed under: Bowls,Football — Chas @ 6:41 am

I have to start with this, because I swear, I may have written or read something exactly like it after the UNC game.

The Falcons fell behind early thanks to breakdowns in all three phases of the game, then forged an impressive second-half comeback, only to see the University of Pittsburgh kick a field goal with 1:17 left and claim a 30-27 victory in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.

Hell, if Pitt had lost this game we could have pointed to key breakdowns of our own in all three phases of the game.

The thing that Bowling Green took away from that loss. Pitt was bigger and stronger.

BG had one last gasp, but the Panthers — who finished with seven sacks on the night — pushed BG back to its own 1-yard line, and a fourth-and-40 play was a prayer that went unanswered.

It all added up to a stinging loss to end one of the best seasons in program history.

“We just met a team that was stronger than us, more physical than us, and we just couldn’t get it done,” Gates said.

Pitt had an advantage and exploited that. Wearing down Bowling Green the entire game. Not letting them get space to make as many plays. It helped immensely that James Conner decided to have the best game of his young career last night.

But the biggest difference-maker was Pitt running back James Conner, who broke a school record that stood for more than 35 years and was held by some guy named Tony Dorsett. That’s all.

Conner, a freshman, is listed at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, but he looked and played taller, bigger, and stronger than an ox.

“The running back was a bear to tackle, as evidenced by how many he broke,” said BG interim coach Adam Scheier.

Conner wasn’t a secret — he’d netted about 50 yards per game, on average — although BG safety BooBoo Gates said film indicated the big back was used mostly in short-yardage situations.

Once Pitt’s coaches realized BG had no answer for him, Conner became an every-down back.

“I hit him once and he slipped out of it and I thought, ‘Oh, man.’ The whole game, he and their offensive line were really physical,” Gates said.

Conner did better than 50 yards on this night. Heck, he had 45 on one carry and several more in the 30-plus range. He finished with 229 and that was 27 yards more than Dorsett had in the 1977 Sugar Bowl against Georgia, the previous Pitt bowl record.

I don’t know about anyone else, but when I saw Connor on defense first, I was thinking that Pitt was planning for a full-time switch for him based on the RBs coming in. That the Pitt coaches were starting to think that they need some playmakers on defense for next year. While there is a chance that he will still see action on defense occasionally next year, he probably cemented his place as a running back.

When the game started, the O-line looked as messed up as ever. Pass protection was spotty at best and Savage was taking another beating. That said, the O-line held it together with the run blocking.

The toughest job on the Pitt staff continues to belong to offensive line coach Jim Hueber. Hueber was forced to juggle more bodies prior to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on Thursday when junior right guard Matt Rotheram, a two-year starter and perhaps the most consistent blocker on the unit, was excused for personal reasons. A Pitt spokesman said Rotheram remains a member of the team, but Rotheram was not at Ford Field for the game against Bowling Green. The result was another new look for the Pitt offensive line, which already was missing left tackle Adam Bisnowaty and left guard Cory King, both of whom have back injuries. King, a senior, hasn’t played since the Virginia Tech game Oct. 12. Freshman Dorian Johnson started in place of Rotheram, while seniors Juantez Hollins and Ryan Schlieper continued to fill in for Bisnowaty and King. Johnson played mainly tackle during the regular season. Center Artie Rowell and right tackle T.J. Clemmings were the only offensive linemen in the spots where they started the season.

Health and depth. What was lacking this year (and the previous two years). Those are my wishes for the O-line in 2014.

Obviously, the storyline is how the youth was served for Pitt. But on the defense it was still the seniors. Ty Ezell dominated the interior as Bowling Green devoted a lot of energy into containing Aaron Donald. But at the end of the game, Donald still made the impact play.

With less than a minute remaining in the game, he drilled Johnson for an 11-yard sack, forcing a third-and-31. The clinching sack sealed Donald’s selection as Defensive Lineman of the Game.

However, it was mostly a frustrating game for Donald. He occasionally had his opportunities to work one-on-one against the Bowling Green’s offensive line, but those were rare.

Donald was double-teamed most of the game. Senior offensive linemen Dominic Flewellyn and David Kekuewa handled the bulk of the responsibilities. Donald had two first-half tackles.

“He was disruptive,” Flewellyn said “He can get in the backfield, which causes the quarterback to shift right or left, and that leaves all the other blockers in one-on-ones and they can make plays as well.”

Grigsby, senior Tyrone Ezell and freshman defensive lineman Shakir Soto led the Panthers with two sacks apiece, and Pitt had seven total.

Bowling Green’s offense found itself overpowered most of the night. Their O-line which seemed so solid before this game just could not protect Johnson when he dropped back. Nor could it provide any running room for Travis Greene. Their star running back who had over 15oo yards coming into the game. He had 9 games of over 100 yards rushing, and he was held to his lowest output — 39 — on the year.

But, lets be honest. The storyline out of this game was that Pitt’s youth had a huge impact, and appears poised to take that into 2014. At least on the offense.

“What can you say?” Voytik said. “I’m excited. You can’t ask for much more. Young talent and years to play with them. We can only get better.”

Tyler Boyd, James Conner, Jaymar Parrish, Dorian Johnson, Chris Blewitt and Chad Voytik all played huge roles in leading Pitt to the victory.

“Enough can’t be said,” said coach Paul Chryst, whose team totaled 487 yards of offense. “I’m really proud of what they did and what they overcame. It didn’t go perfect. It never does. But certainly, I wasn’t surprised.”

Voytik came into the game with three career pass attempts. But he led a 98-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, punctuating it with a 5-yard run around right end, that gave Pitt a 27-20 lead with 9:31 to play. Overall, Voytik completed 5 of 9 passes for 108 yards, including a 62-yard bomb to freshman Tyler Boyd that set up the score.

Voytik said he thought he was going to underthrow Boyd.

“At first, I thought it slipped,” Voytik said. “I guess if I had gotten all of it, with my nerves, it would have sailed over his head. I’m glad it slipped a little bit. I don’t know if it was adrenaline or what, but it got there for me.”

Voytik is not a pure drop-back passer. Well, he’s not as effective in that way. He is much more comfortable and dangerous when allowed to roll the pocket a bit. Given the state of Pitt’s O-line and ability to pass protect it also gave him more time to look downfield.

Pitt started three true freshmen on defense against Bowling Green. Defensive end Shakir Soto and Safety Terrish Webb each earned their first career start, while cornerback Titus Howard made his second career start (his first was against Old Dominion). The Panthers have now had eight true freshmen make at least one start this year on offense or defense.

Comment by Emel 12.29.13 @ 9:07 pm

Steeler talk on the Blather. lol

Ok besides inheriting a Super Bowl ready team. I can’t remember too many new coaches who got to coach the caliber of players that was on the roster when MT took over.

Here’s one OTHER thing he inherited.

Quite possibly the best Defensive Coordinator EVER ! Dick LeBeau.

Steelers are in the beginning of a ‘down cycle’.
Can’t stay on top ALL the time.

Actually this cycle started a year or so ago, losing to many teams that were among the worst in the NFL at the time. Raiders and Browns come to mind. Raiders, Titans and Vikings this year.

Good coached teams don’t lose to the dregs of the NFL. Motivation problem clearly.

Comment by Emel 12.29.13 @ 9:30 pm

I certainly don’t think Tomlin is a terrible coach but he has made some bad decisions including last week in win vs GB. His 2 worse decisions was letting Ben play after his concussion and after his appendectomy resulting in 2 losses that the Stillers would have won with their backup.

And as Emel alluded to, his teams have lost to some terrible teams … this year alone, they lost to Titans and Vikings. The year after they won the SB in 08, they missed the playoff by losing to the 3 worst teams in the AFC … look it up.

Not sure he should be fired though .. just yet

Comment by wbb 12.29.13 @ 9:42 pm

This just in, now BOB to the CLOWNS- Penn live

Comment by pd 12.29.13 @ 9:59 pm

Raiders were 4-12 this year, one of the 4,,,against…guess who.

Da Stillers.

Who could forget Pryor going for 93 yards on the opening snap of the game. Probably going to be the highlite of his entire career.

Actually da Stillers (not that I think about this a tad) have been in a downward cycle since, letting another great college QB/non-NFL QB have his career game.

Another who can forget.

Tim Tebow looking like John Elway (albeit TT was a lefty) and leading them to victory in the last Steelers playoff game. He also had his career highlite against the Steelers.

It’s been downhill EVER since that nightmare in New Mile High.

Comment by Emel 12.29.13 @ 10:04 pm

In case you missed it: link to

Comment by panther94 12.29.13 @ 10:14 pm

Btw, if we were a FORMER rival, then why would they care?

Comment by panther94 12.29.13 @ 10:15 pm

I’m glad the Rooney’s own the Steelers and don’t fire coaches willy nilly like many of you are suggesting. Sure Tomlin won with Cowher’s players, but how many championship games did Cowher lose with his players?

If the Steelers don’t lose Pouncey and Foote in the first game and Bell starts the year healthy, they go to the playoffs.

The reason Cinci is going to the playoffs is because they didn’t fire Marvin Lewis.

The Steelers will be back in the playoffs next year.

I don’t hear you guys blaming Kevin Colbert for the draft misses, where has he been lately?

Comment by gc 12.29.13 @ 10:51 pm

gc have you forgot or were you out of the country 2 of thoes big games cower lost were becuse new england cheated

Comment by Frankcan 12.29.13 @ 11:13 pm

@ gc

There’s not guarantee that would have happened if Pouncey & Foote and Bell were available. lol

Those kind of stmts. are kool aid driven.

The Steelers were totally unprepared for the beginning of the season, as they were horrible in the pre-season as well. 0-4 in August became 0-4 in Sept.

Actually Heath Miller’s absence was more felt.

Colbert needs sent packing too, before we become the Detroit Lions. Oh almost already are.

Comment by Emel 12.30.13 @ 12:36 am

Don’t worry though, the Stillers don’t have the balls to fire Tomlin.

If the empty seats at the games are any indication, Burgers are voting with their no shows and early exits at the games.

Comment by Emel 12.30.13 @ 12:38 am

Yes I know the games are all sold out. btw

Comment by Emel 12.30.13 @ 12:47 am

Btw, if we were a FORMER rival, then why would they care?

Comment by panther94 12.29.13 @ 10:15 pm

They do care, they very much care. Despite the BS that comes from some of them. Collier (Ped State alum), Cook (Big 10’er) and others Ped Centric in the media, all very much care.

They care that PITT remains mediocre or worse.

That should be apparent to all with any semblance of intelligence.

Comment by Emel 12.30.13 @ 12:50 am

Emel, despite their rep as rabid fans, Stiller fans, like all Pgh sports fans are front runners. Not knocking, just saying, there always seems to be at least one winning team in town to follow. Steelers down? Jump on the Buccos bandwagon. Buccos down? The Pens are perennially in the Cup chase.

I have to say I was both surprised and pleased at the level of buzz Pitt’s win generated this week in the local media. Winning the way they did, with explosive performances by Boys and Conner, helps a lot.

I do think that if Pitt ever gets to the point where they are consistently contending for ACC titles, this city would jump on board. We’re a long way from that, but if it happens it’ll be magical.

Comment by Iron Duke 12.30.13 @ 12:56 am

btw Thx for the link panther94 !

Don’t really understand all this supposed interest in Head Ped O’Brien.

After all the Creepy Valleysters did lose to lowly Indiana for the first time ever (and they got rolled by 20). And lost at home to Central Florida. Yes UCF had a good season, but it’s still Central Florida. Additionally they got beat by 2 TD’s by Minnesota, another traditionally after ran in the Big Joke. And they got their worst beating EVER (49 points) by Ohio Fake.

So for this he’s getting all this NFL interest, apparently.


Comment by Emel 12.30.13 @ 1:03 am

@ Iron Duke agree. The new PGH Stiller fans are certainly frontrunners. They played their best game of the year against the first place Bengals, yet by the middle of the 3rd quarter, large swaths of seats were empty. And by the 4rth q. half the stadium was empty.

That never use to happen at 3 Rivers, even back in the ’80’s when the Steelers were mostly absent from the playoffs.

Different kind of fan going to games these days for sure.

Comment by Emel 12.30.13 @ 1:08 am

Question: What teams will have had 4 head coaches within 4 years?
Answer: Pitt Panther and Cleveland Browns

FYI- Steelers has had 3 head coaches in last 44 years

Comment by wbb 12.30.13 @ 7:38 am

Hey Wbb:
The answer to your question about what team will have 4 head coaches within 4 years could also be the following:
TOM BRADLEY(after Paterno was fired)
and who ever replaces O’Brien

Comment by Bruce F 12.30.13 @ 9:15 am

The Steelers finished 6-2 after starting 0-4. That’s damn good coaching, many coaches would have lost their team. Yes it helped immensely to get Heath Miller back. Don’t discount the loss of Pouncey and Foote, they are the play callers on both sides of the ball.

The Steelers have missed on some of their picks Adams and Gilbert may be busts. Woirolds seems to be coming around, Ziggy is so so, but Ironheads kid will be a star. Bell is the real deal and so is Jones. It will be hard to replace Polamalu and Taylor, but they will get it done.

Everyone got old at the same time and there is more to go.

Tomlin may not be Lombardi or Belichak, few guys are, but he won a superbowl and if Mendenhall does not fumble he wins two.

Frankcan, last time I checked they didn’t vacate the Patriots wins, they weren’t punished severely because they weren’t the only ones.

No Emel, the Rooney’s have the balls to keep Tomlin.

Comment by gc 12.30.13 @ 9:27 am

Bruce F, using your method, Pitt had six head coaches.

Comment by gc 12.30.13 @ 9:30 am

I know my method of counting Penn St coaches is flawed but I am enjoying having the Penn St snobs have to worry about thier coaching future-nice to see others have to go through the agonizing wait and see, check EPSN every few minutes for updates, check other blog bullshit that we have had to do in the past. Couldn’t happen to a nicer fan group that is still hoping for Joe(I can do wrong) Paterno! Sorry to be so nasty but still am tired of the Penn St fan base that I have to put up with that still thinks their shit doesn’t stink!

Comment by Bruce F 12.30.13 @ 9:40 am

Emel, so true. Steeler games have become a see-and-be-seen event for the young and upwardly mobile. The fact that there is a game on the field is secondary. I know a lot of die hards who refuse to go anymore. Pens games are trending that way as well.

And, whoever chose those yellow seats for Heinz gave no consideration to how visible they are on TV when empty. They scream EMPTY!

Comment by Iron Duke 12.30.13 @ 10:31 am

Iron Duke, that’s cause ticket prices are the equivalent of a car payment and in some cases a mortgage payment. The average Joe Fan can only afford one or two games a year.

Comment by gc 12.30.13 @ 11:47 am

gc but they should have they did not becuse of the PR night mare it would have been .
think abought it the bookies and vegas and THE NFL
CLEAN IMAGE it took a big hit think how bad it would have been if they had done what they should have.

Comment by Frankcan 12.31.13 @ 9:50 pm

penn state lose there coach good the hell with them

Comment by Frankcan 12.31.13 @ 11:54 pm

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