Pitt vs. Bowling Green: Q&A with SB Nation blog, Hustle Belt

Kirk Irwin
So with one more game left in the football season, I had the chance to get some insight on Bowling Green from SB Nation's resident MAC blog, Hustle Belt. They do good work over there, so check them out not only for this game, but for future ones against MAC foes. You'll also be able to see my answers about Pitt to their questions over there. For now, though, check out our Q&A with them below.

Bowling Green QB Matt Johnson had some pretty interesting tweets that I covered on our site before it was announced that Pitt was going to be the Falcons' opponent. In a nutshell, he was hoping for that to happen since the team apparently snubbed him. Johnson looks like he had a very good year - can you talk a little about his ability?
I think it says a lot about Johnson's overall ability that he competed on even ground for the starting job this year with a three-year incumbent starter (Matt Schilz). I think it says even more that Dave Clawson was comfortable in making the switch from Schilz to Johnson in the first quarter of the first game. This is especially true given how much was expected from BGSU this season.

Johnson is an accurate, efficient passer. He trusts his arm, so he will make an occasional mistake (he had one interception in each of his last three games) but never really seems to make "killer" mistakes. He is able to make virtually any throw, and while BGSU doesn't often throw vertically, he's had success when they do. He's also instinctive when the pocket breaks down. He's not a "running" quarterback and doesn't take off very often, but when he does, he usually gets good yardage. He's got 5 rushing TDs, which is 3rd on the team.

However, in my opinion, Johnson's best attribute is his effectiveness when executing play fakes. On multiple occasions this year, he's disguised the ball so well that TV cameramen have completely missed where the ball was actually going. BGSU's ability to run the ball helps this, of course, but it's probably Johnson's biggest weapon.
Sophomore running back Travis Greene had a huge season as well with more than 1,500 rushing yards to go along with 13 total touchdowns. Can you tell us a little about him as well?
Greene isn't very big (5-10, 181), isn't a flashy runner, and isn't particularly fast. However, he has fantastic vision to find creases in the defense and is able to read and react quickly. He's also very strong for his size. When you watch him run, one of the first things you'll notice is that he rarely goes down on first contact. This often allows him to get to the second level. When he gets there, he won't outrun speedier defenders, but his elusiveness allows him to get extra yards.
With all of the coaching changes Pitt has had, we know a little about participating in a bowl game under an interim coach. With Bowling Green's coach Dave Clawson leaving for Wake Forest, what effect do you think that will have on the team?
A lot of people see this as a potential negative. These players were all recruited by Clawson and many of them have been around for the entire 4-year reclamation project (since a gutted BGSU team went 2-10 in 2010). One could argue that the continuity of the staff over the last few years could hurt, because Clawson leaving would be a shock to the team.

However, I think the team will be fine and motivated to play. The staff, except for Clawson, will be at the bowl game, and interim coach Adam Scheier was a good choice to lead the team. I believe the players will want to finish what many of them started with Clawson four years ago and to send assistant coaches Warren Ruggiero and Mike Elko out on high notes (they're going to Wake Forest with Clawson). And I think that any player who comes to the MAC understands that this comes with success on this level.
Bowling Green enters the game as six-point favorites - something that surprised me a little. Being favored didn't shock me so much as the number and my guess is that Pitt will be a little motivated because of it. What did you think of that line?
I'm not really surprised that Bowling Green is a favorite, but the six-point spread is higher than I would have expected. My assumption is that Bowling Green's 20-point win over then-undefeated Northern Illinois probably plays a big role in that spread. It may also be lack of confidence in Pittsburgh, based on how the Panthers closed the season. The spread is probably giving BGSU a bit too much credit, but you have to admit that they played lights-out in their final five games.
Aaron Donald, we all know, has been impossible to stop this year and he won four major awards this season and if Pitt is going to win, they might need a big game from him. Can you tell us a little about Bowling Green's offensive line?
Entering the season, the line was somewhat of question mark. Three starters were returning, but both tackle positions were turned over to redshirt freshmen. The group started slowly and has given up 34 sacks this season (and 87 total tackles for loss), but they've really come together during the last two months of the season. Left guard Dominic Flewellyn and center David Kekuewa are both first-team All-MAC, while right guard Alex Heuttel was second-team All-MAC.

Pittsburgh's best best is still to attack the tackles, but they've held up well in previous tests against very good defensive linemen, especially Khalil Mack.
Bowling Green's offense has the potential to put up points, but it's the tenth-ranked defense that's been unbelievable. Who are the top players on that side of the ball?
It's really amazing what BGSU's defense has been able to accomplish when you consider that nobody on the unit even approaches leading the MAC in individual stat categories. The team's high in sacks is 5.5; it's high in interceptions is 2. This is as much a "team" defense as you could probably get. Want an example? The team has 28 sacks this year, and 16 different players share those.

With that said, there are some very good play-makers on each level. Ted Ouellet is the team leader with 5.5 sacks and has essentially replaced NFL draftee Chris Jones on the defensive line. He and Jairus Campbell form a very good tandem, especially against the run. At linebacker, the team lost junior Gabe Martin for the season several weeks ago, but guys like Paul Swan and Justin Ford have made that absence hurt lot less.

However, the true beast of the BGSU defense is the secondary. It's a very deep and veteran group (7 of the 8 players on the 2-deep are juniors or seniors). Aaron Foster and Cam Truss are both very good cover corners, and "Boo Boo" Gates is a very fast, athletic safety. Their ability allows the linebackers to play the offensive backfield rather than need to participate in pass coverage. This helps BGSU defend the run better and helps generate more pressure on the quarterback.

The biggest point I can make, though, is that the defense is incredibly deep. Point to any of the first- or second-string players, and all of them have made a big contribution at one time or another. It's a great luxury to have.
How do you see this game shaping up?

As I'm sure you'll agree, it really doesn't matter how motivated a team is...a multiple-week layoff can do crazy things to a team, especially for teams that had been riding a big wave of momentum..

Also, BGSU has had two games against "BCS-level" competition this year. In their third game, they were blown out at Indiana, but then a few weeks later, they nearly beat Mississippi State.

I think this is a game that could swing either way, and the matchups at the line of scrimmage, along with turnovers, are going to be the determining factor. BGSU has been very good at forcing turnovers and limiting their own lately, so Pittsburgh will have to be careful with the ball. Also, much like against Buffalo and Khalil Mack, BGSU's ability to contain Donald will go a long way to determining how they do on offense. On defense, they'll want to help their secondary contain Boyd by getting pressure early and often.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and manager/editor of Cardiac Hill @AnsonWhaley

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