As a reward for winning the ACC Championship and finishing 12’th in the College Football Playoff Rankings (CFP), our (11 – 2) Pitt Panthers face off against the # 10 CFP ranked (10 – 2) Michigan State Spartans (MSU) in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
Who and how did both teams end up in one of the CFP bowl games? MSU and Pitt’s 2021 schedule with year-end records for opponents.
Miami is the only common opponent. While Michigan State won, Miami started D’Eriq King in his last action of the year. Tyler Van Dyke statred the next game and the rest is history.
As I write this Pitt has two players who have declared for the NFL draft – Kenny Pickett and Damarri Mathis who will pass on the game. Michigan State, not to be outdone, have lost their star running back Kenneth Walker for the same reason.
If you are keeping track, Pitt has lost five to the Transfer Portal (TP) since the start of the season. MSU is now up to 15. TP pick-ups are highlighted in green. Those in red have entered the TP. Those in light blue have opted out of playing in the Peach Bowl. Not all players in one of the three colored codes have a stat. Some do have two color codes.
MSU votes for team captains on a weekly basis. The Peach Bowl captains are Xavier Henderson (Safety – 13 games). Payton Throne (QB- twice), Luke Campbell (OL-twice) and Drew Beasley (four- DE). They will be color coded in Gray. Pitt elected Lucas Kroll to replace Kenny Pickett as a captain.
The NCAA stats I am using are thru games played as of 12/4/2021. NCAA Statistics
If you are checking my stats for errors, make sure you use the 12/4/2021 date in the dropdown box.
Really, I should have used the preceding week ending 11/27/2021. That way , I would be comparing 12 game stats for both teams. I had to make a choice between easily accessible team stats or reworking individual (Pitt) stats to subtract out all the Wake Forest game stats. I made the expedient decision.
Here are the NCAA stats for team and individual comparison. Those highlighted in yellow are what I consider are MSU advantages.
Both teams are equally bad when it comes to penalties. Be prepared for a blizzard of yellow flags.
On to the individual stats. Of course, starting with the QB’s.
QB Peyton Thorne is no 2021 Kenny Pickett but Pitt fans would love Kenny even more if he had those stats in 2018 with Ollison and Hall. If he did, there would be a good chance that this would be Pitt’s second 11(+) win season in 4 years. But probably not, Kenny would already be in the NFL. Actually, I was quite surprised by Thorne’s passing stats. Much, much better than I expected.
Not many data points for Pitt’s backup QB’s. Besides the 2021 stats above, here are their prior year’s stats.
Before we write off Joey Yellen as a starter based on his 2020 play, let’s look at Tyler Van Dyke’s first two 2020 starts against ACC opponents.
He ended up as #12 player in NCAA passing efficiency with a 160.1 QB rating and was named the ACC Freshman of the Year. Besides there was way more than slight in the quality of the opponents they faced.
But the real star of the MSU offense is RB and ex-Wake Forest player Kenneth Walker. His per game rushing stats and opponents rushing defense stats.
Do you know what the MSU fans call Kenneth Walker? The answer “K9”. But Walker is gone but I am still getting $10 a chart besides the $0.01 a word if I hit 3,000. Expect more charts than usual.
Did anyone notice that Pitt (a “passing” team) has a nearly 4 minute advantage in the stat “Time of Possession” 31:42 vs MSU’s 27:45?
Who else toted the rock or caught those passes? The individual teams running and passing stats:
I believed Pitt’s run defense would hold MSU rushing to around 100 to 120 yards yard for the game with Walker. I am now trending to the lower end of that scale as the absolute high.
Jordan Simmons, based on stats – 54 carries, 255 yards, 4.7 Y/C, looks to be Kenneth Walkers replacement. (Warning!! – a Reed adjustment coming). A deeper dive shows Simmons had 121 yards on 16 carries (7.6 Y/C) against Youngstown State. Against FBS teams he was 134 yards on 38 carries (3.5 Y/C). Not as impressive as Walker’s overall stats.
Jayden Reed is the Jordan Addison of MSU. But he is not the Biletnikoff award winner. Conner Heyward is listed as a running back. He is used as a hybrid TE/FB in the style of Pitt fan favorite George Aston. Altogether, MSU TE’s are responsible for 51 catches for 530 yards.
Oline comparison time. Starters and backups and then some stats.
MSU, like Wake Forest, has a consistent starting lineup.
How do they compare on protecting the QB and opening holes for RB’s?
Old School stats. How about the new ones?
In old school stats, MSU’s Oline looks very competent in allowing only 18 sacks. But when looking at sacks as a % of total pass attempts (pass attempts plus sacks) MSU’s 4.89% is only 0.38% better than Pitt’s 5.27%. (A team would have to make 263 pass attempts to allow just one sack at a 0.38% rate.)
In TFL’s MSU’s Oline is definitely not as good at opening holes for the running backs. If you follow the math, MSU RB’s are tackled for loss 11.5% of the time. Pitt is only at 5.4%.
Some defensive individual stats. From ESPN team stats and compared to NCAA statistics for accuracy.
I used the top 17 players in tackles for both Pitt and MSU.
MSU has 47 players who made a defensive stat. Eight were offensive players. Pitt’s numbers are 48 and seven. Good sack production from MSU’s DE’s – 16.5 of the 38 total.
Last but not least, turnover margins.
That wraps it up on the stats and my high level comparison of them.
The picture of the Gaffney Peachoid is located in Cherokee County, South Carolina. It was built by the Gaffney Board of Public Works as a water tower. The Peachoid celebrates the role of peach production in the State of South Carolina (second in peaches produced in the nation) and also honoring Cherokee County’s role (at that time) as one of the top producing counties in the state and for still being home to the official South Carolina Peach Festival.
If you are driving south down I-85 to Atlanta for the game, you will see the Peachoid landmark. It is located between exit 92 and Exit 90. Once you see it, you are approximately 3 hours from Atlanta and 6 miles past the closest exit to my home.
One last thing about I-85 in Cherokee County. It is undergoing a widening project from the North/South Carolina border to exit 78, approximately 28 miles. Drive safely.
When the Peach Bowl matchup was first announces, I believed Pitt would win in a breeze. Pitt would shut down the MSU rushing attack and be able to pass with ease. With the exit of Pickett, Mathis, and Walker I believe there will be a role reversal. Pitt will try to run and MSU will try to pass. As I mentioned above, Throne is a much better passer than I expected. I do not watch Big 10 football so I have never seen him (or any other Big 10 player) in action. While Pitt’s pass defense is horrid (257.7 Y/G, #106), Michigan State’s is rock bottom (337.7 Y/G. #130). Patti can pass against that defense.
While no longer a breeze. Pitt wins 27 – 17.