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Michigan State and Pittsburgh Meet in the 2021 Peach Bowl

2021 Peach Bowl

Michigan State and Pittsburgh were teams hunting for a College Football Playoff for the majority of the season. Michigan State fell to their rivals in the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Michigan Wolverines. Pittsburgh had an impressive season where they finished with the conference title for the first time since 2010 when they were in the Big East. While the Spartans and Panthers have a talent full of high-caliber players, they will be without some of them as they have declared for the 2022 NFL Draft. Michigan State will have a glaring issue that will favor Pittsburgh’s offense. Despite the systematic flaw of their defense, the Spartans are coming into the 2021 Peach Bowl as a 2.5-point favorite.


Michigan State and Pittsburgh meet in the 2021 Peach Bowl

Pittsburgh’s elite passing offense vs. Michigan State’s suspect pass defense

This season, the Panthers have one of the nation’s most explosive and productive passing offenses. Pittsburgh ranks third in the nation in points per game (43) and sixth in passing yards per game (333.6). This was thanks to the dynamic playmaking of Heisman Trophy finalist in quarterback Kenny Pickett. Pittsburgh will be without their star quarterback as he opted out of the game to prepare for the 2022 NFL Draft. The Panthers will be prepared to start redshirt junior Nick Patti to lead the explosive passing offense. Patti has played limited snaps this season behind Pickett by throwing for 12-of-14 completions for 140 yards. He previously threw for 26-of-43 completions for 301 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception in the 2019 season. While he doesn’t have the experience and arm talent that Pickett possesses, he knows the offense.

Michigan State is used to playing a well-balanced and efficient defense. However, this season, Michigan State has struggled to keep their opposing offenses from driving the ball down the field. Their pass defense is one of the worst in all of college football as they rank 130th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game (316.1). An example of Michigan State’s inability to cover the opposing passing offense was in the 56-7 blowout loss to #4 Ohio State. Michigan State allowed 449 passing yards. Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud had a near-perfect game throwing for 32-of-35 completions for 432 yards, six touchdowns, and a QBR of 98.6. Michigan State’s secondary will need to be more effective in zone coverage, especially against Biletnikoff Award winner in Jordan Addison. Addison has caught 93 receptions for 1,479 yards and 17 touchdowns this season.

Pittsburgh faces their most talented offense all season in Michigan State

While the Panthers have faced talented offensive teams, they haven’t faced one as dynamic and well-balanced as Michigan State’s offense. The Spartans rank 40th in points per game (31.9) and 44th in total yards per game (420.3) through a series of efficient passing and aggressive rushing. The Spartans will be without their star running back and Doak Walker Award Winner in Kenneth Walker III, who opted out of the game to prepare for the 2022 NFL Draft. They will rely on their veteran quarterback in Payton Thorne and wide receiver Jayden Reed to create momentum on offense. With a new running back starting for Michigan State in sophomore Jordon Simmons, the offensive line will need to be the ones to set the tone for the offense. They have allowed 66 tackles for loss in 42 rushing attempts and only 18 sacks.

The defensive line for Pittsburgh is stacked with talented playmakers that can consistently penetrate the backfield. Defensive end Habakkuk Baldonado and defensive tackle Calijah Kancey are defenders that will give Michigan State enough to handle. Baldonado has accounted for 12 tackles for loss and nine sacks. Kancey has accounted for 13 tackles for loss and nine sacks. This battle between the Spartans’ offense and the Panthers’ defense will be determined at the line of scrimmage. Michigan State has had their drives cut short due to plays made against them in the backfield. On the other hand, Pittsburgh’s defense has been beaten by an opposing offense’s ability to exploit weaknesses in zone coverage. The Panthers’ linebacker and secondary will have to be ready for a potentially explosive game from Jayden Reed.

2021 Peach Bowl Predictions

Both Michigan State and Pittsburgh have had great seasons that had them at the front of the most impressive turnarounds from the previous seasons. The Spartans and the Panthers will have stellar offensive performances despite missing their heavy Heisman Trophy contenders. There will be opportunities for less experienced players like Simmons and Patti to grow and establish their roles for next season.

While these teams are efficient throughout both sides of the field, they also have glaring weaknesses that have caused them to lose their two respective games. Pittsburgh’s defense will have a hard time trying to suppress a Michigan State offense that likes to be smart with the football and exploit weaknesses. Michigan State’s defense is too inconsistent in containing the passing game and locking down receivers. That will be a significant problem when facing one of the best receivers in the nation in Addison. Even though the Panthers will not have Pickett, it may not matter too much. They still possess the same offensive schemes and talent in their receivers that will be too much for Michigan State to match. Unless Michigan State has an explosive game on offense or shuts out Pittsburgh’s offense, the Panthers have the tools for a big win.

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