InsideTheACC: Previewing The Armed Forces Bowl

The Pittsburgh Panthers (6-6) are set to take on the Houston Cougars (7-5) in the Armed Forces Bowl today at 12 PM on ESPN. I don’t recall the last time I saw a bowl game, where both teams had interim head coaches. Houston fired former head coach, Tony Levine, after the regular season ended. Meanwhile, former Pitt coach, Paul Chryst bolted from the steel city to chase the cheese in Wisconsin. Filling in are defensive coordinator David Gibbs for Houston and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph for Pitt.

Pittsburgh Offense:

  • Scoring offense: 31.7 PPG (47th nationally)
  • Passing offense: 182.9 YPG (103rd nationally)
  • Rushing offense: 251.3 YPG (15th nationally)
  • Total offense: 434.3 YPG (41st nationally)

The one name you need to know for this game is James Conner. At 6′ 2″ 250lbs, Conner is bigger than every linebacker on Houston’s roster and even some of their defensive ends. Conner has a good burst, surprising agility for his size, and obvious power. This combination led to an impressive 2014 campaign in which Conner amassed 1,675 rushing yards, a school record 24 touchdowns, and was named ACC Player of the Year. Pittsburgh also has a highly talented receiver in Tyler Boyd, who has two 1,000 yard seasons in his two years in college. Boyd should be a 1st round pick in the 2016 draft, should he choose to leave early. Throwing to Boyd is QB, Chad Voytik. While Voytik won’t blow you away with his arm talent or scare you as an elite runner, he’s skilled enough to make a defense pay for their mistakes. Expect a heavy dose of Conner and a few lobs to Tyler Boyd.

Pittsburgh Defense and Special Teams:

  • Scoring defense: 25.6 PPG (55th nationally)
  • Passing defense: 192.7 YPG (20th nationally)
  • Rushing defense: 156.6 YPG (49th nationally)
  • Total defense:  349.3 YPG (28th nationally)

Pittsburgh’s defense had to replace one of the most talented defensive tackles in the country this season after Aaron Donald headed to the NFL, where he is proving to be a force to be reckoned with. While Pitt is one of the youngest teams in the country, their defense has been very solid, particularly against the pass. When everyone contributes and plays their position, the Pitt defense is tough to move the ball on. With James Conner and the offense able to sustain drives, the defense benefits by staying fresh deep into games.

Houston Offense:

  • Scoring offense: 29.3 PPG (61st nationally)
  • Passing offense: 226.6 YPG (67th nationally)
  • Rushing offense: 181.5 YPG (47th nationally)
  • Total offense: 408.1 YPG (60th nationally)

Houston brings a solid rushing attack to the table. With two capable backs in Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson, the duo has combined for 1,500 yards and 17 TD’s. The passing game is led by, former receiver, Greg Ward Jr., who took over halfway through the season, throwing for 1,700+ yards While the explosive, high-powered days of Kevin Sumlin are gone, the 2014 version of the Houston offense can still be effecitve, especially against an undisciplined defense. Houston’s offense hasn’t had to score a lot of points to be successful this season, because their defense has been stout.

Houston Defense and Special Teams:

  • Scoring defense: 19.5 PPG (11th nationally)
  • Passing defense: 198.3 YPG (29th nationally)
  • Rushing defense: 136.3 YPG (31st nationally)
  • Total defense: 334.6 YPG (19th nationally)

If Houston wants to have a chance in this game, the defense will have to lead the way, and make life miserable for the Pitt offense. As impressive as James Conner has been, he has had a fumble issue this season, so Houston will be aggressive when it comes to trying to strip the ball. They’ve had success on that front this year, grabbing 11 fumbles. If Houston can find a way to limit Tyler Boyd, Pitt won’t have much of a passing option. When they do attempt to pass, opportunistic defensive back Adrian McDonald will be waiting to add to his team-high 5 interceptions.

Outlook and Prediction

Houston’s defense is a squad to be reckoned with. However, they haven’t come across anything like James Conner this year. After a few weeks to rest up, Conner should be fresh and ready to run over the smaller Houston linebacker corps. I don’t see Pitt having a lot of success through the air in this one, but with a player like Tyler Boyd on the field, anything is possible. As for Houston’s offense, their mediocre passing attack doesn’t match up well with a very respectable Pitt pass defense. I believe this game will be fairly close at halftime, but the power of James Conner will come to life in the 3rd and 4th Quarters, as defenders will be tired of getting hammered by 250 lbs of awesomeness. I could also see Voytik connecting on a big play to Tyler Boyd at some point in the game, and I don’t see Houston having much of an answer.

Pitt 34 Houston 17

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