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DETROIT — When the Bowling Green State University football team was waiting to find out what bowl it would visit, junior linebacker D.J. Lynch had only one request.
“I wanted to play a BCS [AQ] team,” Lynch said. “That will allow us to make a big-time statement going into the off-season.”
Lynch and his Falcons teammates got their wish as BG will face Pitt in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl at 6 p.m. today at Ford Field. There is one catch, though: while the Panthers’ statistics may not be jaw-dropping, the team is good enough to give the Falcons cause for concern.
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Take the Pitt defense, which has allowed 374.1 yards and 27.2 points per game. That unit is led by defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who has filled his trophy case with national awards in recent weeks after winning the Bronko Nagurski (outstanding defensive player), Chuck Bednarik (defensive player of the year), Outland (best interior lineman), and Rotary Lombardi (top lineman or linebacker) trophies.
And the 6-foot-0, 285-pound senior has earned those awards. Donald leads all FBS players in tackles for loss per game (2.2) while ranking 10th in forced fumbles (0.33), and 13th in sacks (0.83).
“I really believe Aaron earned every [award] that he got,” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. “In the pre-season he didn’t get a ton of respect. … But the guy just played, and played really well.
“He made big plays at big points in big games.”
Donald and the Pitt defense will face a Falcon offense that has been rolling recently, surpassing 500 yards of total offense in two of the last three contests — and falling just short of that mark with 490 yards in the third.
BG quarterback Matt Johnson has thrown for 3,195 yards and 23 touchdowns, while running back Travis Greene gives the offense balance by rushing for a school-record 1,555 yards and 11 TDs.
Meanwhile the Panthers offense played a big role in the team’s two biggest wins this season. Senior quarterback Tom Savage, who has 2,834 passing yards, threw for 424 yards and six touchdowns in Pitt’s 58-55 win over Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division champ Duke, then engineered a late drive in a 28-21 victory over Notre Dame.
Freshman wide receiver Tyler Boyd has caught 77 passes for 1,001 yards and seven touchdowns. Boyd leads all BCS freshman in catches, and he needs just five more receiving yards to surpass Larry Fitzgerald’s freshman school record.
Bowling Green will counter with a defense that ranks fifth among BCS schools in scoring defense (14.8 points), fourth in passing defense (166.2 yards), and eighth in total defense (308.7 yards).
“They are disciplined,” Savage said after watching the Falcons held down Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch in the MAC championship game. “Playing against a guy like that, you have to be disciplined to know where you are supposed to be and when you are supposed to be there. That can be scary to play against — that should be fun.”