Pitt’s 34-30 win over Eastern Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl on Thursday night saw players like Maurice Ffrench, Taysir Mack and Kenny Pickett distinguish themselves before a national audience with standout performances. Each player was pivotal to the victory and was recognized one way or another, as Ffrench set a record, Mack made the SportsCenter Top 10 and Pickett won MVP honors.
However, there were a handful of Pitt players who played key roles in the win and went largely unnoticed and unheralded. The following are three such players who are deserving of a nod for their contributions to Pitt's first bowl win since 2013.
3. Phil Campbell III, Linebacker
The Panthers defense was largely ineffectual in the Quick Lane Bowl, as it gave up 30 points. But Pitt linebacker Phil Campbell III played his best game to date, as he came up with four tackles and a career-high two sacks.
Campbell’s first sack came in the final minute of the first half and disrupted a promising drive for Eastern Michigan, bringing up 3rd-and-14. The Eagles would convert but not score, as they poorly managed their time. Campbell's second sack was eerily similar to the first, as it came in the final minute of the second half, disrupted another promising Eagles drive and brought up another 3rd-and-14.
With each sack, Campbell bucked a negative trend that had been plaguing Pitt’s defense and came up with a major stop that threw Eastern Michigan off its rhythm, and that proved pivotal to the outcome of the game.
2. Alex Kessman, Kicker
Pitt kicker Alex Kessman did not put on a flawless performance on Thursday night, but he came close. All told, he made two of his three kicks and all four of his extra-point attempts to contribute a total of 10 points to Pitt’s cause. His lone miss came on a 49-yard attempt in the first quarter, but he redeemed himself later in the game.
Kessman converted on a 44-yard field-goal attempt on Pitt’s next drive after his miss, but more notably, he knocked through a 51-yard field goal in the third quarter to tie the game at 20 and ensure that his team did not walk away empty-handed after Damar Hamlin came up with the game’s only interception. It was his eighth kick from 50-plus yards this season.
1. Vincent Davis, Running Back
Kenny Pickett’s game-winning 25-yard pass to Taysir Mack was the play of the game, as Mack overcame defensive holding to come up with a game-winning one-handed grab. However, Pickett might not have been able to get the pass off without the help of Pitt running back Vincent Davis, who gave him ample time with an impressive block despite a mismatch.
This is the block by V. Davis that gave Pickett the time to hit Mack. pic.twitter.com/3XLQ47YIkp— Tim Bowers (@TimBowers62) December 27, 2019
At 5’8”, 170 pounds, Davis is tied with Marquis Williams as the most diminutive player on Pitt’s roster, and he was faced with a blitz by Eastern Michigan defensive back Blake Bogan, who comes in at 6’2”, 197 pounds. For some, a size disadvantage like that could make pass protection a challenge, but Davis was unfazed by the disparity and doggedly fended off Bogan, allowing Pickett to find Mack.
In addition, Davis was Pitt’s leading rusher, with 69 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, and his second-quarter score kept Eastern Michigan from running away with the game. It also made him Pitt’s rushing touchdown leader for 2019, as it was his fifth of the season.