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Michigan State Spartans quarterback Payton Thorne. (Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire)
December 27th, 2021
Pittsburgh and Michigan State will square off in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Thursday as both teams face questions after opt-outs from Kenny Pickett and Kenneth Walker III.
Thursday saw Heisman finalist Kenny Pickett opt out of the Peach Bowl, leaving the Panthers without the quarterback who had the third-most touchdown passes in the nation this season. Pickett originally had committed to playing in the game, but changed his mind following the resignation of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, who has since joined the staff at Nebraska.
Without Pickett, the third-best scoring offense in the nation now turns to backup Nick Patti, who threw just 14 passes this season. He completed 12 of those for 140 yards with no turnovers or touchdowns, but did run for a nine-yard score on his only carry of the season. Patti will still have Fred Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison to throw to, a big-play receiver who racked up 1,479 yards and 17 touchdowns on 93 catches.
Nick Patti has been both by Kenny Pickett's side and in his shadow for 4 years. Thursday's Peach Bowl offers a long-awaited opportunity for Patti. Pitt interim OC Tim Salem: "Now it's his time to go and show what he can do and shine."https://t.co/TYIhaypz69— Johnny McGonigal (@jmcgonigal9) December 27, 2021
Nick Patti has been both by Kenny Pickett's side and in his shadow for 4 years. Thursday's Peach Bowl offers a long-awaited opportunity for Patti. Pitt interim OC Tim Salem: "Now it's his time to go and show what he can do and shine."https://t.co/TYIhaypz69
The Panthers will need to rely on their defense to help make things easier for the new quarterback. Pitt’s run defense ranks sixth in the nation, albeit against some weaker offenses than what Michigan State will show them. They allow fewer than three yards per carry and just 91.8 yards per game, but Western Michigan and Miami were able to beat them this season by hurting them through the air. Pitt allowed 426 yards to the Hurricanes, and 357 yards passing to the Broncos in its two losses.
That task won’t be made easier by the loss of Damarri Mathis, who has opted out as well to focus on the draft. Mathis had the ninth-best reception rate among all eligible corners in the nation this season, but suffered an injury in the ACC Championship win over Wake Forest.
Hours before Pickett made his announcement, Walker announced he also would be skipping the bowl game for Michigan State. The Doak Walker Award-winning running back ran for the second-most yards on the ground this season, gaining 1,636 yards while scoring 19 touchdowns. Five of those scores came against Michigan, putting him as the favorite for the Heisman after the Spartans' 37-33 comeback win.
However, Michigan State fell apart after that, going 2-2 down the stretch to finish 10-2 and end the program's hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff. This was despite Walker playing well in three of those four games, with an early injury against Ohio State knocking him out after just six carries. Backup Jordon Simmons will try to pick up the slack, rushing for 255 yards and 4.7 yards per carry on the season.
Quarterback Payton Thorne was inconsistent this season, but the loss of wide receiver Jalen Nailor for the final four games was a blow as well. He will have that weapon back most likely, pairing with Jayden Reed to give him two downfield threats. Thorne threw for 2,886 yards and 24 touchdowns on the season, and threw just nine interceptions. Aside from the Ohio State game, he ended the season well, with 831 yards in the other three November games, including eight touchdowns and just three interceptions.
JALEN NAILOR CAN’T STOP SCORING🚀 63-yard TD🚀 63-yard TD🚀 65-yard TD pic.twitter.com/fHiiEEoF8e— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 9, 2021
JALEN NAILOR CAN’T STOP SCORING🚀 63-yard TD🚀 63-yard TD🚀 65-yard TD pic.twitter.com/fHiiEEoF8e
Michigan State’s defense is by far the worst in the nation against the pass, giving up 337.7 yards per game. However, the loss of Pickett and the inexperience of Patti should help them in that area. However, they will continue to be without linebacker Quavaris Crouch, who missed the last four games of the season due to injury.
Replacing your quarterback for a bowl game is tough. Replacing your quarterback and your offensive coordinator at the same time is even tougher. Doing it against a team as good as Michigan State, even with all their secondary woes, might be too much to ask.
Michigan State will have to find out what they are without Walker, but they will have their starting quarterback and a stud wide receiver. Regardless of his inconsistency, there is a lot to be said for having experience at the position in a bowl game, especially against a secondary in Pitt that will be without a starting corner and has had their own struggles this year against the pass.
The return of Nailor to the passing game gives the Spartans another big-play option downfield, and while Simmons will find running the ball a tough task, Thorne doesn’t turn it over much and should be able to make enough plays to put points on the board.
I could see this game going either way, so the safest play is likely the Under. With the missing players on both offenses, I think points will be at a premium in this game. Put your money on the teams not reaching the total and buy the hook to 56.5 to protect yourself. If you’re looking for a Same Game Combo, pair that with Michigan State winning outright to more than double your wager.
Score prediction: Michigan State 27, Pitt 24
Our predictive engine is calling for Michigan State to win outright, and for the game to go Under the projected point total.
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