2016 New Era Pinstripe Bowl Preview: PITT vs Northwestern
No. 19 Pittsburgh Panthers (8 – 4) vs. Northwestern Wildcats (6 -6)
December 28, 2 pm, ESPN
Yankee Stadium, Bronx, N.Y.
Pittsburgh finished the season strong with three wins in a row, including the massive upset at then number two ranked Clemson Tigers. Pitt is averaging 53 points per game in this three-game stretch heading into a battle with .500 Northwestern in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Northwestern had to sweat out their bowl eligibility until Nov. 26. The Wildcats beat Illinois in Evanston 42 – 21 to secure a bid, and avoid any APR (Academic Progress Rate) waivers.
On the defensive side of the ball, someone will have to remind Pitt that this is a “thing” in football. Northwestern ranks 23 in scoring defense, while Pitt is down at 109.
Pitt ranks 10th in offensive points per game, and 12th in overall points.
Both teams played the Duke Blue Devils at home this season. Pitt destroyed the Devils 56 – 14, while the Wildcats stifled the Duke offense in a 24 – 13 win.
Transitive wins and common opponents are not the best indicator of how a game may unfold, but these two games involving Duke do give us a glimpse into the way these teams’ seasons played out.
Pitt was used to simply outscoring their opponents in games with scores in the 40s and 50s.
Northwestern kept itself in each game this season while hitting the teens and 20s on the scoreboard.
Pitt should be below their points per game, and Northwestern should be above theirs. I wouldn’t be shocked to see a back-and-forth affair with both squads struggling to make a stop.
When Pitt lost, they really left no doubt. Their benchmark wins were two of the bigger stories this season. Their two big wins against Penn State and Clemson were games in which the Nittany Lions and Tigers couldn’t stop the rush and pass, respectively.
Penn State gave up 341 on the ground, while Clemson gave up 308 through the air versus Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman.
Pitt can score in every way imaginable, which means Northwestern needs to be balanced in their defense of a very balanced Panthers offense. The Wildcats passing defense will be very busy versus Peterman.
Pitt’s secondary will find itself equally harassed by Northwestern’s passing attack.
Northwestern got its signature wins in back-to-back games at Iowa and at Michigan State. The win at Kinnick Stadium as an 11-point underdog showed what the Wildcats can do against a susceptible defense.
“Susceptible” is an understatement in regards to the Panthers defense. Giving up 30 or 40 points in a game will not faze Pitt, as they fully expect to put up enough to get the win.
Players to Watch
Both teams’ quarterback/running back tandems will be highlights in the Pinstripe Bowl. Given how proficient Pitt has been in both aspects of their offense, but how shaky their defense can be, both offenses should have tremendous success.
Pitt’s Nathan Peterman ranks ninth nationally in passer rating at 161.23.
His backfield partner James Conner has gone over 1,000 yards for the second time in his career, and is playing his final game for the Panthers. Conner announced earlier this month that he will enter the 2017 NFL Draft.
Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson is ranked 37th nationally in passing yards per game at 247. For perspective, he is one slot behind Washington quarterback Jake Browning (252 YPG), who will compete in the College Football Playoff.
Northwestern running back Justin Jackson ranks 24th in the nation in yards per game with over 108. Jackson accounts for roughly one-third of the Wildcats’ touchdowns on the season with 12.
Speaking of touchdowns, Pitt has had much more success finding the end zone than Northwestern. Pitt has 69 touchdowns on the season, while Northwestern has 41.
On the flip side, Northwestern has allowed 31 touchdowns (16 in the nation) while Pitt has allowed 55 scores (104 rank).
Throwing in all these stats, the presumptive opening up of the playbooks, and a post-holiday festive atmosphere, and this game has the makings of a tremendous shootout.
Of the remaining bowl games, the Pinstripe Bowl features the third highest Over/Under at 65.5, behind only the Cactus Bowl (67) and the Hawai’i Bowl (72).
The Pitt Panthers look to cap off a stellar season, and James Connor will end a heroic college career in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. Pitt’s offensive fireworks will be too much for Northwestern, and Hail to Pitt will ring out in The Big Apple as Pitt shows the CFP why they should’ve #PutPittIn.
Final: Pitt 40 Northwestern 34
* All stats listed above reflect CFB Stats