Eastern Michigan and Pittsburgh will face one other on the evening after Christmas at Ford Field in the 2019 Quick Lane Bowl. This will be the third meeting between the Panthers and the Eagles. The two previous match-ups occurred in Pittsburgh in the month of September. The Panthers won the first time, 66-30, in 1995. They also won the second game, 27-3, in 2007.
Pittsburgh finished this season 4-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference and 7-5 overall. On the positive side, the Panthers ended Central Florida’s 24-game regular season winning streak in September that started a four-game winning streak of their own. On the downside, they dropped the last two contests in November, costing them any shot at repeating as winners of the Coastal Division. Pitt defeated its first opponent from the Mid-American Conference this season, a 20-10 decision at home over Ohio.
Eastern Michigan started this season impressively, winning three of the first four games. That included a 34-31 victory at Illinois. Once the Eagles began their slate of Mid-American Conference games, they struggled. They lost their first two contests and four of their first five. In November, they dominated Akron and Northern Illinois on the road in consecutive weeks. At the end of the regular season, EMU stood at 6-6, 3-5 in the MAC.
2019 Quick Lane Bowl: The Day After Christmas In Detroit
One question can be raised going into nearly every bowl game: which team cares about being there? Playing in this bowl is the fifth different destination in six seasons for Pitt. For Eastern Michigan, any post-season game is a rare treat.
EMU is playing in just the fourth bowl game in the history of its program. The Eagles played in the post-season in two of the three previous years. Their all-time bowl record is 1-2.
Pittsburgh has plenty of experience playing in bowl games, both in the two most recent decades and in its entire history. However, success in bowls has not occurred frequently. The Panthers have lost six of their last seven bowl games. In total, they are 13-21. On the bright side, their lone win in that losing streak occurred in this same bowl under a different corporate sponsor’s name at the end of the 2013 season.
In terms of wanting to impress the fans in the stands, Eastern Michigan has the advantage. Thirty-two of the Eagles are from the state of Michigan. In contrast, kicker Alex Kessman is the sole Panther from the Great Lakes State. Considering that EMU’s campus is just a 35-mile drive away from Ford Field, the Eagles are expected to have a much larger crowd at the game.
Pitts’s defensive pressure
Can Eastern Michigan block Pitt’s phenomenal sophomore defensive lineman, Jaylen Twyman? During the season, he compiled 38 total tackles. Those included 12 for losses, 10.5 of which were sacks. He was also credited with one pass defensed. Four different organizations named Twyman to the second-team of their All-American teams.
Eastern Michigan has been susceptible to pressure on their quarterbacks. Mike Glass III has been sacked 12 times for a total loss of 69 yards. Preston Hutchison has been sacked eight times for 48 lost yards. In their six victories, the Eagles allowed only fours sacks, two each of Glass and of Hutchison. Opponents have averaged 2.67 sacks of Eagles’ quarterbacks in EMU’s six losses.
Protecting the ball
Protecting the ball must the top priority of the Eastern Michigan’s offense to have a chance at an upset. EMU turned over the ball two or more times in four games during this season. The Eagles lost three of those. However, when they avoided giving away the ball, they won both times. Winning the turnover margin is critical for any underdog, especially one being given 11.5 points in the point spread.
Pittsburgh cannot afford to be generous with the ball either. Pitt lost the turnover margin in six games, losing three of those. Their three victories among those included wins over FCS member Delaware and an atrocious squad from Georgia Tech. The Panthers took the ball away more than they gave it away in three contests, all victories. Sloppy handling of the ball would keep EMU and the anticipated Eagle-friendly crowd in the game.
Grinding out the game
Pittsburgh needs to be able run the ball to control this game against a presumably inferior opponent. In the Panthers’ seven victories, they gained more than 100 yards on the ground in six of those. They averaged 148.4 rushing yards in the wins. When they lost, they had gained only 81.8 rushing yards on average. Seven of their ten rushing touchdowns happened in their wins.
EMU’s rushing defense has not looked formidable by any measure. The Eagles have surrendered an average of 202.4 rushing yards per game, the 22nd highest total in the FBS. They have given up at least two touchdowns on the ground in nine contests. On average, they have permitted 2.4 rushing touchdowns per game, tied for 14th highest amount. They did win on the two occasions when they held opponents to less than 100 rushing yards.
Eastern Michigan will receive an emotional boost from a partisan crowd in their favor. Pitt has less motivation or interest in this game so their indifference will show. The Eagles should remain within single-digits through the third quarter. The Panthers will finally realize that they had to do more than show up in order to win. At that point, their edge in talent will make the difference. The Panthers will escape with a 27-23 decision.