Pinstripe Bowl preview: Northwestern, Pitt could bring offensive fireworks
This is an intriguing battle in the Bronx at Yankee Stadium between Northwestern and Pitt, which haven’t met since 1973 when legendary Panther Tony Dorsett was a freshman and rushed for what was then a school-record 265 yards in a 21-14 win.
The all-time series is tied, 3-3. Northwestern had to win its finale vs. Illinois to get bowl eligible, making it seven bowls in 11 seasons for Pat Fitzgerald.
This could be a game that features a lot of points, as each program has a prolific offense. NU was expecting a better destination when 2016 dawned, as the Wildcats won 10 games in 2015. A loss in this game would make the Cats 6-7, as NU lost to FCS Illinois State and Western Michigan to open the season.
In its ninth bowl in a row, Pitt is playing well under Pat Narduzzi, the former Michigan State defensive coordinator. The Panthers are the only team to have beaten two Power Five league champs, taking down Clemson and Penn State. The big storyline will be the battle of running backs between the Panthers’ James Conner and the Wildcats’ Justin Jackson.
Conner is an inspirational story, overcoming cancer and a knee injury to run for 1,060 yards and 16 TDs this season. Jackson is No. 2 in the Big Ten with 1,300 yards rushing (108.3 ypg). Pitt also has a star at QB in Nathan Peterman, who has 26 TD passes.
Quadree Henderson is a top target. NU LB Anthony Walker, S Godwin Igwebuike and DE Ifeadi Odenigbo must have big games to contain this prolific attack. Pittsburgh will be making its third Yankee Stadium appearance, previously playing in the first-ever college football game at the original venue on October 20, 1923 (3-0 loss vs. Syracuse) and on November 17, 1962 (7-6 victory vs. Army).
Northwestern will be making its Bronx debut. Fun fact: Former New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner was once an NU assistant football coach and current Yankee manager Joe Girardi played baseball for the Wildcats.
Northwestern (6-6) vs. Pitt (8-4): 2 p.m. ET Dec. 28, Bronx
Player on the spot: Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson. He has been a revelation as a sophomore, emerging as one of the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks. Thorson hits 58 percent of his passes for 2,968 yards with 21 touchdowns and eight picks. And he has a special mojo with WR Austin Carr, who leads the Big Ten with 84 catches for 1,196 yards with 12 TDs.
Best individual matchup: Pitt DE Ejuan Price vs. Northwestern’s Justin Jackson. If Jackson is able to run wild, the Wildcats should be able to pull off the win. Price is a special player. The sixth-year senior finished second in ACC Defensive Player of the Year voting.
Best unit matchup: Pitt offense vs. Northwestern defense. The Panthers are No. 2 in the ACC in scoring (42.3 ppg). The rushing attack is No. 3 in the ACC (229.8 ypg). The Wildcat defense has underrated athletic ability, allowing 22.1 points. The rush defense yields 136.7 yards per game. This unit may be able to mute a Panther attack that scored 43, 56 and 76 points in its last three games.
Number: 137, points Pitt and Syracuse combined to score in their finale on Nov. 26, the most ever in regulation in a FBS game.
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