The Pittsburgh Panthers didn't finish the regular season as they hoped, but they at least earned a bowl victory in dramatic fashion as they look ahead toward the 2020 campaign.
After dropping the final two games of the regular season, Pittsburgh bounced back with a thrilling 34-30 win over Eastern Michigan at the 2019 Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit's Ford Field on Thursday. Kenny Pickett led the way with three touchdown passes, including one in the final minute to Taysir Mack, helping ensure the ACC squad finished the year with an 8-5 record.
As for the MAC's Eastern Michigan, this loss means it finished with a losing record at 6-7 despite winning two of its final three regular-season games to clinch a spot in the bowl.
Notable Player Stats
- PITT QB Kenny Pickett: 27-of-39 passing for 361 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions
- PITT RB Vincent Davis: 15 carries for 69 yards and one touchdown; two catches for 27 yards
- PITT WR Maurice Ffrench: 12 catches for 165 yards and one touchdown
- EMU QB Mike Glass III: 28-of-50 passing for 311 yards, two touchdowns and one interception; 83 rushing yards and one touchdown
- EMU WR Hassan Beydoun: nine catches for 113 yards and zero touchdowns
Kenny Pickett Plays Hero for the Panthers
It appeared as if Pickett was in for a long game. He lost a fumble on Pittsburgh's first offensive possession, and counterpart Mike Glass III made him pay with a touchdown run on the ensuing drive, but he found his footing when his team needed him the most.
Trailing 10-3, Pickett connected with Maurice Ffrench for a 96-yard touchdown strike and the longest pass in program history. It set the tone for what was to come, as Eastern Michigan couldn't tackle Ffrench in space, couldn't match up with him in press coverage and was forced to give him underneath routes following the long score.
ESPN's broadcast noted Ffrench, a senior, broke the legendary Larry Fitzgerald's program record for most receptions in a single season in the process of dominating the overmatched secondary.
Pickett, Ffrench and the rest of the aerial attack was put to the test throughout the remainder of the game, as the Panthers never established much consistency on the ground and struggled to contain Glass on the other end.
Mack's winning catch will make all the highlight shows, but it was Pickett who directed a 91-yard drive down three points in the final three minutes to give his team the win. It wouldn't have even been possible if he didn't stand strong in the pocket and unleash a clutch third-down touchdown pass to Jared Wayne earlier in the fourth quarter.
Pickett was inconsistent for much of the season with 10 touchdown passes to nine interceptions, but he was at his best in the postseason for the victorious Panthers.
Mike Glass III Impresses Before Ugly Ejection
The biggest matchup coming into the game was the one between Glass, who tallied 2,858 passing yards, 345 rushing yards and 29 total touchdowns as a dual-threat playmaker this season, and Pittsburgh's defense that was 11th in the country in yards allowed per game (302.5) and first in sacks per game (4.08).
That Pittsburgh defense had held Penn State to 17 points and remained within striking distance of almost every opponent. Jaylen Twyman and Patrick Jones II spearheaded the pass rush all year, but the group struggled to contain Glass in the first half.
Eastern Michigan put up 20 points before intermission and had little trouble moving the ball even without much of a run game besides Glass. He threaded the needle downfield, eluded pressure with his footwork and took the running lanes when available to put his team in position to win.
While he threw an untimely interception to Damar Hamlin in the third quarter, Glass also connected with Arthur Jackson III for a touchdown to take the lead in the fourth before Pickett countered.
Despite the showing, Glass' bowl performance may be remembered for how it ended. He threw two punches while trying to muster a final-minute drive, and the second one accidentally hit the official and knocked the referee to the ground.
Glass was ejected, and Preston Hutchinson threw an interception to clinch the loss for the Eagles.