The biggest stars won’t be on the field, but the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl should still have plenty of fireworks when the Pittsburgh Panthers take on the Michigan State Spartans on Thursday night. The kickoff for this contest is scheduled for 7 pm ET at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Pittsburgh (11-2) will be playing without quarterback Kenny Pickett, a Heisman Trophy finalist, who led the Panthers’ offense with 4,319 yards and 42 touchdowns through the air this season. Pickett is preparing for the NFL Draft and won’t participate in the bowl game.
Michigan State (10-2) is also without a top player, as running back Kenneth Walker III has decided not to play in the game as he prepares for the move to the NFL. Walker rushed for 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns this season, winning the Walter Camp Award as the nation’s top player.
The Spartans are three-point favorites in this contest, with the over/under set at 56 points.
While the passing end of many of the Panthers’ big connections won’t be playing on Thursday, the receiving end will. Wide receiver Jordan Addison, the Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation’s top receiver, will be looking to burn a Michigan State pass defense that is the worst in the country. Addison leads the nation with 17 touchdown receptions this season and is going up a secondary that allowed 337.7 yards per game through the air.
Throwing the ball to Addison and the rest of the Panthers’ receiving corps will be junior quarterback Nick Patti, who has thrown for just 140 yards this season as Pickett’s backup. Patti has thrown just 62 career passes with Pittsburgh, but he’ll get his chances against the woeful Spartans secondary.
The Panthers have three running backs who have each rushed for over 450 yards this season. Israel Abanikanda leads the way with 635 yards and seven scores, Vincent Davis has 550 yards and four touchdowns, while Rodney Hammond Jr. has run for 484 yards and five scores.
Two If By Air
Even if Walker had been playing in this game, the Spartans may have been going to the air more, but with their star running back not suited up, look for them to really try to get the passing game going. Quarterback Payton Thorne has been very good, throwing for 2,886 yards and 24 touchdowns, and he has a full complement of receivers in this one.
Jayden Reed has been the constant in the MSU passing game, making 53 catches for 946 yards and eight touchdowns. He’ll be joined in this game by Jalen “Speedy” Nailor for the first time since the Spartans beat Michigan, as Nailor has been out with a hand injury. Nailor has 31 catches for 587 yards and six touchdowns but has missed the last four games, as MSU went 2-2 without him in the lineup and 8-0 when he was on the field.
Tight end Connor Heyward could factor into the offensive game plan as well. The former running back is playing his final game with MSU and is a terror to bring down when he gets the ball, whether running it or as a receiver.
Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi spent seven seasons as a Spartans assistant coach before becoming the Panthers’ head coach, but it’s a new regime with MSU now. Coach Mel Tucker has his team playing aggressively on both sides of the ball, and that’s going to pay off in this one.
Look for Michigan State to win and cover in a shootout win over Pittsburgh.
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