(KDKA)- Another year, another seven-win season for the Pitt Panthers. Under head coach Pat Narduzzi, Pitt has won 7-8 games four times in five seasons, and in the other season, they finished below .500. That type of consistency is fine, but it is not what Pitt fans were likely expecting after the team's surprise run to the Coastal division title last season.
"I can tell you from the fan base around here and the feeling in Pittsburgh that everybody is a little bit disappointed. They were hoping Pitt would get a better bowl game. They started the season 7-3, hoping for a bigger bowl game," said KDKA sports anchor Rich Walsh.
The optimism was understandable considering that the team had lost two games to Penn State and Miami by a total of 11 points. And, in each game, they had a chance to win late. But, after the hot start, they were demolished by Virginia Tech (28-0) and fell apart against a mediocre Boston College team (26-19). So, as Walsh says, fans' expectations were let down. But he does note that "the team is excited to go out there and play Eastern Michigan."
One of the main reasons for excitement comes from the opportunity to win the first bowl game of the Narduzzi era and the first for the program since the 2013 Little Caesars Bowl under Paul Chryst. They have a good shot, as their opponent, Eastern Michigan, is susceptible defensively. The Eagles have allowed opponents six yards per play and 30 points per game this season, and they have been equally vulnerable to the pass and the run.
Pitt's offense has stalled out at times this year, as they have tried to find replacements for Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall. Quarterback Kenny Pickett has improved his completion percentage, but he struggled overall as a passer, averaging just 6.4 yards per attempt with 10 touchdowns to nine interceptions. He should find opportunity to throw against EMU's defense, which is allowing 225 yards per game and 62.8 percent completions to opponents this season. The Panthers offense hasn't been good this year (116th in scoring 20.1 PPG), but there is opportunity to score against an Eagles defense that allows opponents to convert 80 percent of their red zone opportunities.
On the defensive side of the ball, Pitt should dominate. The Eagles have thrown the ball well, with Mike Glass III completing 67.7% of his passes for 2,844 yards and 21 touchdowns. But the Panthers defense has been stingy in that regard, allowing opponents to complete just barely half of their pass attempts (50.5%) for under 200 yards per game. The Panthers' 4.4 yards per play and 21.8 points per game allowed rank among the top 40 defensive units defensively this season, making this a tough matchup for the Eagles.
"I'm going to have to go with the Panthers. I think they're the better team, they're playing in the better conference. Eastern Michigan has struggled. Pitt is favored in this game. I would think this is a game that they should win," said Walsh. "I think Pat Narduzzi finally gets his first bowl win. And, he'll get his eighth win for the third time in five years with Pitt. I would take the Panthers."
Vegas agrees. The Panthers are favored by 10.5 points as of this writing. But, despite being big favorites, the oddsmakers aren't expecting a high-scoring game, with the over/under set at just 49 points. However, the Panthers have been favored by nine points or more just three times this season, and they only covered once (a 20-10 win over Georgia Tech).
Kick-off in Detroit for the Quick Lane Bowl is set for Thursday, December 26th at 8 p.m. EST.
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