The Pittsburgh Panthers and Eastern Michigan Eagles are set to meet in Detroit for the Quick Lane Bowl on Thursday night. Pitt posted a 7-5 overall record in the regular season, which included a 4-4 mark in ACC play, and hopes to rebound from a two-game losing streak to end the season on a high note. Eastern Michigan, which won two of its final three games to become bowl eligible, was 6-6 overall and 3-5 in the MAC.
Quick Lane Bowl: Pittsburgh (7-5) vs. Eastern Michigan (6-6)
Kickoff: Thursday, Dec. 26 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Ford Field (Detroit)
Spread: Pittsburgh -11
When Pittsburgh Has the Ball
Pitt threw the football much more in 2019 than it did a year ago. Quarterback Kenny Pickett finished the regular season ranked No. 14 nationally in pass attempts (430), having averaged 39.1 passes in his 11 starts as a junior. In 2018, Pickett averaged 22.1 pass attempts in 14 games. He has completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 2,737 yards and 10 touchdowns with nine interceptions and ranks 29th nationally in passing offense (248.8 ypg).
Pickett's top target during the regular season was Maurice Ffrench, who led the team and ranked No. 9 nationally with 84 receptions despite missing two games with a broken jaw. Ffrench, who ranks third among all FBS players with an average of 8.4 receptions per game, has caught at least six passes in every game in which he appeared. He also leads the Panthers with three touchdown catches and is second with 685 receiving yards. Taysir Mack has 62 receptions for 711 yards and two touchdowns. Shocky Jacques-Louis emerged as a big-play threat in the second half of the season, and enters this game with 19 receptions for 280 yards and two touchdowns.
Running back A.J. Davis is a threat as a receiver as well. Davis has caught 22 passes for 264 yards out of the backfield. He leads the team with 532 rushing yards and his four rushing touchdowns have him tied with freshman Vincent Davis in that category. Pickett, the only other Pitt player to score on the ground, has 105 rushing yards and two TDs. Todd Sibley Jr. (249 rushing yards) and V'Lique Carter (231 rushing yards) also have been involved in a running game that struggled to get much going for the majority of the regular season. The Panthers finished last in the ACC and 121st in the country in rushing offense (120.67 ypg).
When Eastern Michigan Has the Ball
Eastern Michigan quarterback Mike Glass III has been one of the most exciting signal-callers in the MAC this season. Glass has completed 67.8 percent of his passes for 2,858 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, and he's second on the team with 345 rushing yards and seven more scores. Backup Preston Hutchinson also has seen significant playing time and he's performed well when on the field. In seven appearances and one start, Hutchinson has completed 76.8 percent of his passes for 462 yards and three TDs with one pick. He was on top of his game for that one start — going 31-for-36 for 357 yards and three touchdowns without an interception against Western Michigan.
Running back Shaq Vann started slowly and was limited to nine games during the regular season, but he exploded for 556 rushing yards and all eight of his rushing touchdowns over the final six games. Vann, who surpassed 100 rushing yards in three games, enters the bowl game with a team-high 667 rushing yards.
The Eagles are deep at wide receiver. Seven Eastern Michigan receivers have already caught at least 20 passes this season, including two — Quain Williams and Dylan Drummond — with 50 or more receptions. Arthur Jackson leads the way with 679 yards and six touchdowns on 39 catches, followed by Williams' 593 yards and five scores. Mathew Sexton has posted 508 yards and four touchdowns on 34 receptions, while Drummond has produced 483 yards and three TDs on his 51 grabs.
The Eagles are capable of putting up big points and yardage totals, but they are also highly susceptible defensively. EMU has allowed 6.02 yards per play, which ranks eighth (out of 12 teams) in the MAC and 90th nationally.
Meanwhile, Pitt has been stout on the defensive side of the ball. The Panthers allowed 302.5 total yards per game during the regular season and 4.44 yards per play, both of which ranked second to Clemson in the ACC, and sit No. 11 and No. 5, respectively, on the FBS leaderboard. The Pitt defense also has recorded 49 sacks this season, which puts the Panthers third in the country, and only two sacks behind No. 1 Ohio State.
Pitt is a heavy favorite, and understandably so. The Panthers have a big talent advantage across the board, and especially on defense. Edge rushers Haylen Twyman and Patrick Jones II, linebacker Kylan Johnson, and defensive backs Paris Ford and Damar Hamlin have all had standout moments. If that group can keep Glass and Vann in check, Pitt should win.