Pinstripe Bowl Preview
Pittsburgh Panthers vs Northwestern Wildcats
The last two Pinstripe Bowl matchups went into overtime and another close game wouldn’t be a surprise on December 28 (Enter Contest). Under the watch of new coordinator Matt Canada, Pitt quietly averaged 42.3 points a contest in 2016. Canada did a good job of mixing up the run with James Conner (1,060 yards) and utilizing a passing game with quarterback Nathan Peterman (26 TDs) with few proven weapons at receiver.
Northwestern got off to a rough start, opening 1-3 with losses to Illinois State, Western Michigan and Nebraska. The Wildcats showed steady improvement in the second half of the season, largely due to the development of quarterback Clayton Thorson. Running back Justin Jackson has posted three consecutive 1,000-yard campaigns and will test a Pitt run defense ranked third in the ACC. While the Panthers have been stout against the run, stopping the pass has been a huge issue this year. Can Thorson connect with receiver Austin Carr for a couple of big plays?
ABOUT NORTHWESTERN (6-6, 5-4 Big Ten)
Jackson, a first team All-Big Ten running back, posted his third consecutive 1,000-yard campaign. He has 3,905 career yards rushing, 27 rushing TDs and a 4.7 per carry average. Thorson had seven TD passes and nine interceptions as a full-time starter his freshman season. This year he completed just 53 percent of his passes with five TDs and four picks during the Wildcats’ 1-3 start. Despite that, the sophomore finished the season by completing 60 percent of his tosses with 18 TDs against just four interceptions in the final eight games. On the defensive side of the ball, first team all-conference defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo tied for the league lead with 10 sacks while junior linebacker Anthony Walker, Jr. had 98 tackles but is averaging 9.4 tackles per game over his last eight.
ABOUT PITTSBURGH (8-4, 5-3 ACC)
Conner (ACC all-time leader with 56 touchdowns), a first-team all-conference performer, was given the Brian Piccolo Award for the “most courageous” football player in the ACC. Senior quarterback Nathan Peterman (59.7 percent completions, 2,602 yards, 26 TDs, 6 INT) threw 12 touchdowns against two interceptions in season-ending victories over Clemson, Duke and Syracuse and completed the season with a passer rating of 161.2 – tops in the ACC and ninth nationally. The Panthers pass defense is suspect, but one standout has been first-team all-conference defensive end Ejaun Price, who ranks second nationally in tackles for loss (1.8 per game) and fifth in sacks (1.0) with half of his 42 tackles this season being behind the line of scrimmage.