New Era Pinstripe Bowl Preview

Dec. 23, 2016

Northwestern will take on No. 23 Pittsburgh in the 2016 Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, December 28. This year's game will be nationally televised by ESPN at 2 p.m. ET.

The Wildcats finished with a 6-6 regular-season record, including wins over bowl-bound teams Iowa (38-31) and Indiana (24-14). Northwestern captured a 42-21 victory over Illinois in the regular-season finale to secure bowl eligibility for the seventh time in the last nine seasons under head coach Pat Fitzgerald.

On the strength of a three-game winning streak, the Panthers enter the postseason with an 8-4 record and set for their 33rd all-time postseason appearance and first in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. Pitt, which defeated CFP No. 2 Clemson 43-42 and No. 5 Penn State, 42-39, is the only team in the country to have defeated two “Power 5” conference champions. The Panthers make their ninth consecutive bowl appearance overall, and second straight under head coach and former Michigan State assistant Pat Narduzzi. While Northwestern will be making its Bronx gridiron debut, Pittsburgh will be making its third Yankee Stadium appearance all-time, 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).

This will be the seventh all-time meeting between Pitt and Northwestern, but the first in a postseason game. The schools last played during the 1973 season, a 21-14 Pitt victory in Evanston. The overall series is tied at three wins apiece. 

QUICKIE
STATS

Scoring
Offense

Scoring Defense

Total Offense

Total Defense

Rushing Offense

Rushing Defense

Passing Offense

Passing Defense

Turnover Margin

NU

25.6

22.1

392.9

401.6

145.3

136.7

247.7

264.9

+7

PITT

42.3

35.6

447.5

452.0

229.8

108.9

217.8

343.1

+3

Northwestern finished the regular season ranked fourth in the Big Ten in passing (247.7), sixth in the Big Ten in total offense (392.9), ninth in scoring (25.6), and 11th in rushing (145.3). The star of the offense is Big Ten Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year, senior Austin Carr. The first-team All-Big Ten and second-team All-America honoree hauled in 99.7 yards per game and ranked first in the conference in receptions (84), receiving yards (1,196), and receiving touchdowns (12). First-team All-Big Ten running back Justin Jackson led the league in rushing (1,300 yards) at the end of regular season play and paced the Wildcats with 12 rushing touchdowns. Joining Carr and Jackson with All-Big Ten recognition were sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson (honorable mention), sophomore offensive lineman Tommy Doles (honorable mention) and junior superback Garrett Dickerson (honorable mention media). Thorson has thrown for 2,968 yards this season and tied the single-season record with 21 touchdown passes. Dickerson was second among Big Ten tight ends with four touchdowns to go along with 272 yards on 29 catches, while Doles helped with protection up front and opened up holes for the ground game at both right guard and tackle positions.

Pitt is third in the ACC in defending the rush (108.9), 13th in total yard allowed (452.0) and scoring defense (35.6), and 14th against the pass (343.1). Redshirt senior defensive end Ejuan Price finished second in the ACC Defensive Player of the Year voting and was a first-team All-ACC selection after ranking first nationally with 1.8 tackles for loss and sixth in the country with 1.0 sacks per game. On the year, Price has compiled 21 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, 13 QB hurries, three forced fumbles and a blocked extra point. Pitt tied for third in the league with 39 sacks in 2016. Sophomore safety and second-team All-ACC Jordan Whitehead was 18th in the league with 7.2 tackles per game, but fourth with 5.1 solo stops each time out. Mike Caprara and Matt Galambos each recovered a pair of fumbles this year to help the Panthers post a total of nine recoveries, including one for a score, while Whitehead scored one of the three pick-six touchdowns off a total of eight interceptions. Pitt will need to tighten up in the red zone, having ranked 13th in the ACC with a 92.6 opposition scoring percentage (50-54) and yielding 38 touchdowns along the way.  

Pitt enters the postseason ranked second in the ACC in scoring (42.3), third in rushing (229.8), fifth in total offense (447.5), and 11th in passing (217.8). The Panthers have compiled the highest season point total in school history (508), and the 42.3 points per game, which currently ranks 10th in the country, is poised to eclipse the all-time Pitt record of 40.7 set way back in 1904. Three All-ACC standouts anchor the line up front, led by first-team selection Dorian Johnson at guard. Second-team selection Adam Bisnowaty and third-team pick Brian O’Neill cover the ends at tackle for a unit that surrendered just nine sacks this year, an average of 0.75 per game, which leads the ACC and ranks third nationally. Redshirt junior running back James Conner is the inspiration of the offense as he earned 2016 All-ACC First Team honors and was the recipient of the conference's 2016 Brian Piccolo Award, awarded to the "most courageous" football player in the ACC. Following a knee injury and a diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma in 2015, he ended the 2016 regular season ranked fifth among all league rushers with 1,060 yards, scoring 20 touchdowns. Conner also set ACC career marks for total touchdowns (56) and rushing TDs (52). Quarterback Nate Peterman (172-288, 2602 yds, 26 TD, 6 INT) is seventh nationally with 15.13 yards per completion and ninth overall with a 161.2 passer rating. His primary target is Jester Weah, who led the ACC with 23.4 yards per catch on his 34 receptions, a league-high nine of which went for touchdowns.

Northwestern’s defense is fifth in the Big Ten in scoring (22.1) and against the rush (136.7), 10th in total yards allowed (401.6), and 14th in defending the pass (264.9). The Wildcats forced four turnovers in their regular season finale against Illinois to improve their turnover margin to plus-7, which ranks tied for fourth in the league. Anchoring the defense is first-team All-Big Ten defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo, who tied for the Big Ten lead with 10 sacks. Odenigbo ranks second in program history with 23.5 career sacks. Junior linebacker Anthony Walker, Jr., and safety Godwin Igwebuike were named as second-team picks. Igwebuike led all Big Ten defensive backs and ranked 10th in the country in the regular season with 101 tackles, while also ranking seventh nationally with 6.3 solo tackles per game. Walker enters the bowl game two tackles shy of recording back-to-back 100-tackle seasons as he ranks 11th in the league with 98 tackles through 12 games. He has 10 tackles for loss, two sacks, three forced fumbles, a pair of fumble recoveries and one interception on the year.  In his first year as a starter, sophomore cornerback Montre Hartage led the Wildcats with five interceptions and nine pass breakups. He was fifth on the team with 56 tackles, including 46 solo stops. 

Pitt’s special teams unit is paced by first-team All-ACC pick Quadree Henderson, who has four returns for touchdowns this season, including a nation-leading three on kickoffs. He ranks second in the country in combined kick return yards (1,121), fifth in kickoff return average (31.1) and 11th in all-purpose yards per game (159.75). Senior placekicker and All-ACC honorable mention selection Chris Blewitt became the program’s all-time leader in kick scoring (357) and field goals (54) this season. He has made 9-of-15 field goals and 63-of-66 PATs, but has been most remembered for his 48-yard field goal with six seconds remaining that gave Pitt its 43-42 upset over No. 2 Clemson. On kickoffs, Pitt will want to stay away from Northwestern’s Solomon Vault, a third-team All-BigTen return specialist who ranked third in the Big Ten and seventh in the country with a 25.3 kick return average and scored his fifth career kick return touchdown with a 95-yard score in the Wildcats' win at Michigan State. Jack Mitchell hit 7-of-11 field goals and missed just one of his 39 PAT attempts.