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Pinstripe Bowl Announcement

Game Preview

Pinstripe Bowl Preview: Pitt vs. Northwestern

Pinstripe Bowl Preview: Pitt vs. Northwestern

THE MATCHUP: PITT (8-4) VS NORTHWESTERN (6-6)
WHEN: 2:00 P.M. EST
WHERE: YANKEE STADIUM, BRONX, NY
HOW TO WATCH: ESPN
HOW TO LISTEN: 93.7 THE FAN & THE PITT IMG SPORTS NETWORK

In many ways, the 2016 season already feels like an improvement over last year. Pitt earned a victory over arch-rival Penn State, upset #2 Clemson in Death Valley, and broke numerous offensive records in Matt Canada’s first (and only) year as offensive coordinator. However, the Panthers currently sit at eight wins, which is the same total as last year. With a victory Wednesday afternoon in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, the improvement can become more than just a feeling—it can become a measurable fact.

The Panthers will face Pat Fitzgerald and the Northwestern Wildcats in the Pinstripe Bowl. The Wildcats hold a 6-6 record, with key victories over Duke, Iowa, and Michigan State. Although a 9-7 home loss to FCS Illinois State is tough to defend for a team that made the Outback Bowl last season, four of the Wildcats other losses came to teams currently ranked in the top 25 (Western Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State, and Wisconsin). Wednesday’s game will influence the perception of Northwestern’s 2016 season as well, since it will dictate whether or not the Wildcats conclude the season with a winning record. Pat Fitzgerald, who holds a 1-5 record in bowl games as Northwestern’s head coach, will also look to recover from last season’s 45-6 loss to Tennessee in the Outback Bowl. As with Pitt, Northwestern has plenty riding on this game.

The Wildcats operate out of a base offense featuring three receivers, a running back, and a superback (fullback/tight end/wide receiver hybrid). Although Pitt is a 5.5-point favorite Wednesday, Northwestern possesses the offensive ingredients that make an upset over the Panthers possible. While they rank 77th nationally in total offense with 392.9 yards-per-game, the Wildcats feature the type of quarterback-receiver duo that has bested the Panthers all season. Let’s look at the players to watch when Northwestern has the ball:

  • Clayton Thorson, Quarterback: Part one in the formula for scoring on the Panthers’ defense is a capable quarterback. As Syracuse’s Zach Mahoney demonstrated in the regular season finale, you don’t need an extensive statistical résumé to throw for 400+ yards and 5 touchdowns on Pitt’s secondary; you just need to be able to get the job done. 6’4” 220-pound redshirt sophomore Clayton Thorson has proven to be able capable of just that. The Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection completed 257 of 442 passes for 2,968 yards, 21 touchdowns and 8 interceptions during the regular season. A former 4-star recruit, Thorson ranks as Mel Kiper’s ninth-best quarterback eligible for the 2017 draft. He throws behind an offensive line allowing 2.92 sacks-per-game (112th in the nation), so Ejuan Price and the Panther pass rush may present the best chance in limiting Thorson’s production.
  • Austin Carr, Wide Receiver: The second part of the formula for scoring on Pitt is a talented receiver with above average size and respectable production. Once again, Northwestern features a player fitting this description. Austin Carr, a 6’1” 200-pound senior, earned First-Team All-Big Ten honors this season. The former walk-on was also named as a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, awarded to the nation’s top wide receiver. With 84 receptions for 1,196 yards and 12 touchdowns, Carr possesses the ability to become the 14th receiver to record over 100-yards receiving on the Panthers in 2016.
  • Justin Jackson, Running Back: At running back, the Wildcats feature another All-Big Ten performer. Justin Jackson, a 5’11” 193-pound junior, earned Second Team All-Big Ten honors this season with 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns on 266 attempts. In order to reach 1,400 yards, Jackson will have to earn every inch. Pitt ranks 9th nationally in run defense, allowing just 108.9 yards-per-game, and they held the Big Ten’s top rated running back (Penn State’s Saquon Barkley) to under 100-yards this season.

Defensively, the Wildcats allow 401.6 total yards-per-game, ranking 59th nationally in that category. Statistically speaking, they are stouter against the run than they are against the pass. Northwestern ranks 31st nationally in rushing yards-per-game (allowing 136.7 ypg), and 108th in passing yards-per-game (allowing 264.9 ypg). Below are the Wildcats’ top performers on defense:

  • Godwin Igwebuike, Safety: The Wildcats’ leading tackler, Godwin Igwebuike, earned second-team All-Big Ten honors this season. The 6’0” 205-pound junior recorded 101 tackles, 5.5 tackles-for-loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 interception. As the Wildcats’ leading tackler, he will play a pivotal role Wednesday if the Wildcats are to limit Pitt’s James Conner in his final game as a Panther.
  • Anthony Walker, Jr., Linebacker: At the center of Northwestern’s defense roams Anthony Walker, Jr., a second-team All-Big Ten selection. Despite battling an injury early in the season, the 6’1” 245-pound junior has 98 tackles, 10.0 tackles-for-loss, 2.0 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and an interception. His on-field play and classroom accomplishments even made Walker Jr. a featured subject on Sports Illustrated’s website this week. Should he receive a favorable projection from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, Walker Jr. may become the first Wildcat with eligibility remaining to be selected in the NFL draft since Darnell Autry in 1996.
  • Ifeadi Odenigbo, Defensive End: Ifeadi Odenigbo, a 6’3” 265-pound pass rushing specialist, is enjoying a breakout season in his senior year. The former 4-star recruit earned second-team All-Big Ten honors by posting 10.0 sacks and 12.0 tackles-for-loss. Although his sack total is impressive, Odenigbo is listed as a second-teamer on Northwestern’s depth chart, and he does not register many tackles other than sacks (just 22 total tackles on the season). Also, 6.0 of his sacks came in a two-game stretch where the Wildcats’ earned road victories over Iowa and Michigan State. Odenigbo will face one of the most consistent offensive lines in the nation on Wednesday. The Panthers’ line allows a mere .75 sacks-per-game, ranking them as college football’s third-best unit in that category.
  • Montre Hartage, Cornerback: Northwestern may struggle overall when stopping the pass, but quarterbacks must exercise caution when throwing towards sophomore Montre Hartage. In his first season as a starter, Hartage has intercepted 5 passes and defended 9 more. Even when a receiver gets a step on the 6’0” 190-pounder, he knows how to play the ball, as evidenced by the video below:

Here is how the two teams compare statistically:

PITT NW
  PITT OPPONENTS NW OPPONENTS
POINTS SCORED 508 427 307 265
Points Per Game 42.3 35.6 25.6 22.1
Points Off Turnovers 82 51 52 56
FIRST DOWNS 248 276 254 262
Rushing 119 77 94 104
Passing 107 178 141 148
Penalty 22 21 19 10
RUSHING YARDAGE 2757 1307 1743 1640
Yards Gained Rushing 3015 1662 2056 1974
Yards Lost Rushing 258 355 313 334
Rushing Attempts 510 386 451 446
Average Yards Per Rush 5.4 3.4 3.9 3.7
Average Yards Per Game 229.8 108.9 145.2 136.7
Rushing Touchdowns 35 25 19 19
PASSING YARDAGE 2613 4117 2972 3179
Comp-Att-Int 173-295-6 327-513-8 259-447-8 287-467-13
Average Yards Per Pass 8.9 8.0 6.6 6.8
Average Yards Per Catch 15.1 12.6 11.5 11.1
Average Yards Per Game 217.8 343.1 247.7 264.9
Passing Touchdowns 26 27 21 11
TOTAL OFFENSE 5370 5424 4715 4819
Total Plays 805 899 898 913
Average Yards Per Play 6.7 6.0 5.3 5.3
Average Yards Per Game 447.5 452.0 392.9 401.6
KICK RETURNS – RETURN YARDS 34-987 63-1250 26-624 28-639
PUNT RETURNS – RETURN YARDS 15-251 28-236 19-132 22-227
INTERCEPTION – RETURN YARDS 8-182 6-48 13-138 8-93
KICK RETURN AVERAGE 29.0 19.8 24.0 22.8
PUNT RETURN AVERAGE 16.7 8.4 6.9 10.3
INTERCEPTION RETURN AVERAGE 22.8 8.0 10.6 11.6
FUMBLES – FUMBLES LOST 15-8 14-9 8-6 12-8
PENALTIES – YARDS 69-597 78-668 43-354 56-543
Average Per Game 49.8 55.7 29.5 45.2
PUNTS – YARDS 55-2344 61-2494 72-2901 67-2796
Average Yards Per Punt 42.6 40.9 40.3 41.7
Net Yards Per Punt 36.1 36.4 35.5 38.3
KICKOFFS – YARDS 88-5410 76-4737 59-3710 58-3514
Average Yards Per Kick 61.5 62.3 62.9 60.6
Net Yards Per Kick 40.5 37.2 38.9 37.8
TIME OF POSSESSION PER GAME 31:25 28:35 28:05 31:55
3rd-DOWN CONVERSIONS 73/161 71/178 74/192 69/192
3rd-Down Percentage 45% 40% 46% 58%
4th-Down CONVERSIONS 7/11 17/24 13/28 14/24
4th Down Percentage 64% 71% 46% 58%
SACKS BY – YARDS 39-279 9-57 26-171 35-204
TOUCHDOWNS SCORED 69 55 41 31
FIELD GOALS/ATTEMPTS 9/15 15/18 7/11 17/24
RED-ZONE TOUCHDOWNS/ATTEMPTS 43/52 38/54 22/38 25/49
PAT’S MADE / ATTEMPTED 63/66 50/52 38/39 24/27

Passing:

COMP ATT YDS TD INT EFFIC
PITT
Peterman, Nate 172 288 2602 26 6 161.2
NW
Thorson, Clayton 257 442 2968 21 8 126.6

Rushing:

CAR YDS AVG TD LONG
PITT
Conner, James 208 1060 5.1 16 40
Henderson, Quadree 54 555 10.3 5 66
Peterman, Nate 69 291 4.2 2 42
NW
Jackson, Justin 266 1300 4.9 12 58
Moten IV, John 54 329 6.1 2 43
Thorson, Clayton 85 82 1.0 5 42

Receiving:

REC YDS TD LONG
PITT
Weah, Jester 34 795 9 75
Orndoff, Scott 33 558 5 74
Henderson, Quadree 23 241 1 37
Conner, James 20 299 4 55
NW
Carr, Austin 84 1196 12 58
Nagel, Flynn 37 421 2 57
Jackson, Justin 33 210 0 37
Dickerson, Garrett 29 272 4 42
Scanlan, Andrew 25 296 0 31

Defense:

SOLO TOTAL TFL FF FR INT SACKS
PITT
Lewis, Ryan 58 77 1.5 0 0 2 1.0
Galambos, Matt 37 70 2.5 0 2 0 0.5
Idowu, Oluwaseun 34 68 2.0 2 0 0 0.0
Webb, Terrish 21 66 1.0 1 0 1 0.0
Whitehead, Jordan 46 65 1.5 1 1 1 0.0
Soto, Shakir 29 43 9.0 0 0 0 3.5
Price, Ejuan 31 42 21.0 3 0 0 12.0
NW
Igwebuike, Godwin 75 101 5.5 1 1 1 0.0
Walker Jr., Anthony 58 98 10.0 3 2 1 2.0
Hall, Nate 41 66 6.0 0 0 0 0.0
Prater, Jaylen 31 61 2.0 0 0 0 0.0
Hartage, Montre 46 56 0.0 0 0 5 0.0
Washington, Xavier 19 36 7.0 0 0 0 4.0
Odenigbo, Ifeadi 16 22 12.0 2 0 0 10.0

 

On the injury front, Northwestern will likely be without running back Warren Long, who has not played since their season opener against Western Michigan. Other than that, the Wildcats should have all other expected contributors ready to go. For Pitt, defensive tackle Tyrique Jarrett, running back Chawntez Moss, wide receiver Tre Tipton, wide receiver Zach Challingsworth, defensive tackle Amir Watts, and safety Jordan Whitehead are all “questionable.” Cornerbacks Avonte Maddox and Phillipie Motley are “probable.” All other players who were previously lost for the season will remain out.

The New Era Pinstripe Bowl kicks off at 2:00p.m tomorrow at Yankee Stadium. The game will be aired on ESPN, and can be heard on 93.7 the Fan. As always, Pittsburgh Sports Now and its staff will provide in-game updates and observations via Twitter.

The confidence in Pat Narduzzi and the Pitt football program seems to grow with each month. A win over Northwestern will give Narduzzi his first bowl victory as a head coach, an accomplishment all head coaches must reach on their way to success. If they can limit Northwestern’s Thorson-Carr connection, Pitt will have undoubtedly improved for the second year in a row, and will carry quite a bit of momentum into the off-season.


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