"Although Bowling Green had been installed as a solid favorite, it was clear almost from the outset that Pitt owned a significant physical advantage," says Bob Smizik.
By Bob Smizik / Special to the Post-Gazette
It is a source of great irritation to me that what once was a deservedly rich tradition of postseason college football games has evolved into a shameless parade of totally meaningless contests that exist solely to provide programming for ESPN.
If further annoys me that the media, -- and in the case of Pitt’s involvement in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl that would mean the Pittsburgh contingent -- treats these games as if they are not just important but more important than regular-season games. They’re not.
And it frosts me no end that many of the Pitt players were forced to miss Christmas with their families in order to play in a football game in Detroit against an opponent from a lesser conference.
Pitt had little to gain and much to lose by playing Bowling Green. But ESPN rules.
That said, Pitt vs. Bowling Green was a highly entertaining game and what little there was for the Panthers to gain they took -- every last drop in a 30-27 win.
Although Bowling Green had been installed as a solid favorite, it was clear almost from the outset that Pitt owned a significant physical advantage. The Panthers bullied the Falcons on both sides of the ball and there was no more clear evidence of that than the performance of freshman running back James Conner. He was an absolute beast as he threw off Bowling Green tacklers like they were midget league players en route to gaining 229 yards on 26 carries.
To make the night a touch more special, Conner took some snaps when Pitt was on defense. He had been an outstanding defensive player in high school.
It was man against boy in a performance that long will be remembered.
Conner had some outstanding games during the regular season -- 173 yards against Duke, 102 vs. North Carolina -- but mostly was held in check by ACC opponents. It will be interesting to follow his career, as he gets stronger and wiser, to see how he will fare in conference play.
Just as noteworthy for Pitt was the performance of redshirt freshman quarterback Chad Voytik. He was used so sparingly by coach Paul Chryst during the regular season that a belief had understandably developed among some that he wasn’t cut out for this level of play.
He took a long stride toward erasing that last night when he replaced injured Tom Savage to start the second half. Although the play calls wisely revolved around Conner, Voytik was there when needed.
On Pitt’s first possession of the fourth quarter, with the game tied at 20, Voytik threw a near-perfect pass to streaking Tyler Boyd that was good for 62 yards to the BGU 11. Two plays later, Voytik, seeing the open field, sprinted 5 yards for a touchdown.
Later in the quarter, he ran 19 yards to jump start a drive that resulted in a game-winning field goal by Chris Blewitt. For the game, Voytik completed five of nine passes for 108 yards.
In retrospect, Chryst looks foolish for not allowing Voytik more game experience as the clear successor to a fifth-year senior. It’s not like Savage was Dan Marino. He deserved to be the starter but, as last night showed, he was not irreplaceable.
Boyd was his usual remarkable self, one of the best freshman wide receivers in the country. No one should be surprised if he sets all of the Pitt receiving records before he leaves for the NFL. He caught eight passes for 173 yards and also had a 54-yard punt return.
A satisfying end to an otherwise disappointing season.
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