The 2021 Peach Bowl will feature Pitt and Michigan State, two teams that have turned their programs around with very successful seasons this year. Both teams featured a star player that they ran their offenses through, and both players will not be playing in the bowl.
That will be looked at as a disappointment in what could have made the game even more fun to watch, and the Peach Bowl will probably be one of the least anticipated New Year’s Six bowls this year because of that.
Kenny Pickett and Kenneth Walker were not the only two players on the team. It took all eleven guys on the field at a time to play as well as both teams did.
Instead, this game will be used as a launchpad for both programs for the future. There are a plethora of young stars to still watch out for in this game. Let’s get into it.
Pitt’s @CFAPeachBowl Uniform
— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) December 29, 2021
Nick Patti will be the starting quarterback for the Panthers. Patti has been the backup for the last two seasons, making brief appearances for when Pickett has been banged up.
But Pitt and its players still have complete faith they can pull out the win.
“We’re going to have a lot to prove,” Owen Drexel said, “especially with that No. 8 guy (Pickett) not being in the building.”
Patti has been the unquestioned number two this season. He played as a freshman at Pitt in 2019, starting the 17-14 victory against Delaware when Pickett was injured. The Panthers entered the fourth quarter on the wrong end of a 14-10 score before Patti threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Taysir Mack with 10 minutes, 33 seconds left. Patti’s 271 yards passing were the most by a Pitt player in a starting debut since John Turman threw for 316 against Penn State in 1999.
He threw only six other passes that season and a total of 19 in 2020 and ‘21, but he has only one interception on his resume in 62 throws.
Head coach Pat Narduzzi said the offense won’t change with not only Patti now under center but a new offensive coordinator calling plays with Mark Whipple leaving.
The key for the Pitt offense will be settling Patti in by pounding the run game. The Panthers feature a multitude of running backs that are more than capable to carry the load of the offense. Israel Abanikanda, Vincent Davis, and Rodney Hammond have all combined for over 1600 yards rushing in 13 games and more than 350 yards in the passing game. Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison will also look to make life easier for Patti with a very favorable matchup against a weak Spartan secondary.
As for the defense, Pitt needs to continue to get to the quarterback like they always do. Not having Walker in the backfield will increase unaccustomed pressure on Payton Thorne to make plays, so getting to the quarterback and stopping the run frequently will be key. Look for SirVocea Dennis, Habakkuk Baldonaldo, Calijah Kancey, and Deslin Alexandre to be forces for the Panther defense.
Michigan State Spartans
— Michigan State Football (@MSU_Football) December 28, 2021
Michigan State will have to rely on Thorne to carry most of the offense with Walker III sitting out. Thorne threw for 2886 yards on the year to pair with 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions, while also adding 167 yards on the ground.
Walker’s production will be hard to replicate, and the offense struggled this season when he is taken out of the game plan. The Doak Walker Award winner rushed for 1646 yards and accounted for 19 total touchdowns. Jordon Simmons, the backup back, accounted for just 255 rush yards and one touchdown in the passing game.
The key for Michigan State is to do what the only two teams that beat Pitt this season did…throw the deep ball.
Western Michigan and Miami lit up the Pitt secondary with explosive plays which ultimately led to the Panthers’ demise. Michigan State has the home run hitting targets in Harold Joiner, Tre Mosley, and Jayden Reed to easily do this.
As for the defense, they need to do what Pitt also needs to do: bring the pressure. Pitt’s offensive line has been more than solid this season, but loading the box to stop the run and bringing the pressure on the newly acquainted Patti will be the most important task for the defense.
Michigan State finished the year 68th in points per drive allowed (2.23) versus Pitt’s 24th ranking of the same metric (1.80). That’s the difference in this game: Pitt can stop opposing offenses when necessary while Michigan State struggled to put the brakes on most of their opponents.
Pitt is one of the five best run defenses in the nation this year, allowing just 2.7 yards-per-carry. That doesn’t bode well for an offense without its premiere back.
Thorne has attempted more than 30 pass attempts this season once: The 56-7 blowout loss to Ohio State. This offense was purely Walker, and Thorne will not be able to do enough to get Michigan State the win.
Final Score: Pitt 31, Michigan State 20
Anthony Ravasio is a writer for TWSN and a student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. In his downtime, you can find Anthony watching sports, enjoying his time with friends or family, or tracking his bets on Action (or all three at once). You can find TWSN on Twitter @TWSN___ and Instagram @twsn___. You can find Anthony on Twitter @anthonyravasio or Instagram @ravasiosports as well.