Welcome to the Pinstripe Bowl Preview as the Pitt Panthers take on the Northwestern Wildcats! This is your one-stop shop for everything you need to know about Pitt and their upcoming opponent! Mike Drakulich of Pittsburgh SportsNation brings you inside the huddle for both teams, providing all fans a breakdown of each team, game outlook, score prediction, individual stats, team stats, and even the weather at kickoff–Everything but a ticket into the stadium!
A look at the Pitt Panthers!
Overall Record: 8-4 | ACC Record: 5-3
Head Coach: Pat Narduzzi (2nd Season with Pitt)
Lifetime Record: 16-9
Last Game: Pitt 76 Syracuse 61
Breakdown of the Panthers: Nathan Peterman leads one of the most explosive offenses in all of college football. For the year, Peterman has 2,602 yards passing with 26 touchdowns and only six interceptions. The exceptional Pitt offensive line allowed Peterman to be sacked only nine times. He also rushed for 291 yards with two more scores.
His main weapons in the Pitt air attack are Jester Weah, Dontez Ford, and Scott Orndoff. Weah, a redshirt junior, caught 34 passes for 795 yards and nine touchdowns. Ford missed six games this year due to injury, but came back to finish his senior season strongly. In his last two games, Ford caught four balls for 128 yards and two scores. Quadree Henderson was involved in the passing game early in the year, but his stats faded down the stretch. Henderson is utilized heavily in the Panther running game, especially in the Jet Sweep Pitt employs. Orndoff, a senior tight end, was 2nd on the team with 33 receptions for 558 yards and five scores.
Pitt’s rushing attack is what opponents fear most. The unpredictable offense is an open book in finding weaknesses in opposing defenses. James Conner is the lead dog in Pitt’s offense. In Sept. 2015, Conner suffered a debilitating knee injury in the season opener. Two months later, on Thanksgiving Day, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
He overcame it all. With his cancer in remission, Conner, who declared for the 2017 NFL Draft, ran for 1,060 yards on the year with 16 touchdowns. He’s a dual threat that added 20 receptions for 299 yards and another four TD’s. His blend of speed and power will serve him well in the next level. Henderson, as mentioned above, is a major threat every time he touches the ball. He added 555 yards rushing and five touchdowns to his 23 receptions for 241 yards and a score.
Pitt uses a myriad of extra runners during the season, including Chawntez Moss, Qadree Ollison, Darrin Hall, and Maurice Ffrench. George Aston is a jack of all trades fullback. Not only does he lead the way for Conner in the running game, he himself has added 74 yards rushing with five of those runs ending in the endzone. Like Conner, he is a threat catching the ball, too, as he caught 20 passes for 162 yards and another four scores.
Pitt’s defense has talent throughout it’s line-up, but the beleaguered group was torched all year in the secondary, allowing 343 plus passing yards a game. Pitt gives up and average of 35.6 points per game.
Defensive End Ejuan Price leads the nation in tackles for loss per game (1.8 avg., tied). Exactly half of Price’s 42 tackles this season have been for a loss. The All-America selection has compiled 21 TFLs, 12 quarterback sacks and 13 QB hurries on the year.
Not only is Quadree Henderson a nightmare for defenses when he rushes or catches the ball, teams may want to avoid kicking the ball to him on special teams. He has returned three kicks to the house while averaging 31.1 a return. He has returned one punt for a score and averages 17.9 a pop there.
It’s been a solid season for Pitt. It’s tough to play the “what if” game, but facts are facts… if they made just a few key stops against Oklahoma State, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech, Pitt would’ve found themselves ranked in the Top 10 and playing for a major bowl. You couldn’t ask for a more fun team to watch offensively. The future is certainly bright for head coach Pat Narduzzi and the Panthers. The Pinstripe Bowl will be just another brick in the wall in bringing Pitt’s program back to prominence. The contributions and memories provided by seniors Nate Peterman, Scott Orndoff, Dontez Ford, tackle Adam Bisnowaty, guard Dorian Johnson, Ejuan Price, defensive end Shakir Soto, linebackers Mike Caprara and Matt Galambos, safety Reggie Mitchell and Terrish Webb, corner Ryan Lewis, kicker Chris Blewitt, and especially James Conner will always be cherished by Panther fans.
A look at the Northwestern Wildcats!
Overall Record: 6-6 | Big Ten Record: 5-4
Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (11th Season with Northwestern)
Lifetime Record: 76-62
Last Game: Northwestern 42 Illinois 21
Breakdown of the Wildcats: The Wildcats, though not as explosive as Pitt’s offense, have a dynamic trio of players in Clayton Thorson, Austin Carr, and Justin Jackson.
Thorson has thrown for 2,968 yards with 21 touchdowns and eight picks. He was sacked 34 times for the year. He’s not much of a threat rushing the ball, but he has found the end zone five times.
Carr leads the Big Ten with 84 receptions, good for 1,196 yards and 12 TD’s. Pitt will have their hands full containing him. Flynn Nagel is 2nd on the team with 37 catches for 421 yards and two scores. Garrett Dickerson has four touchdowns out of his 29 catches for 272 yards. Andrew Scanlon has contributed 25 grabs for 296 yards. The Wildcats don’t utilize the tight end position.
Justin Jackson is a beast of a runner who tallied 1,300 yards on the ground this year, with 12 TD’s. He also grabbed 33 catches for another 213 yards. John Moten IV is his back-up.
The Wildcats defense is decent against the run, and they had better be in this game. They allow and average of 136.7 yards a game. Northwestern is weak against the pass, finishing last in the Big Ten by allowing 264.9 yards per game through the air.
“We have a very confident defense,” sophomore cornerback Montre Hartage said. “We preach on that bend-but-don’t-break mentality. Even though a man goes down, the next guy has to step up and contribute and work harder than everyone on the defense at that time. We’ve been showing teams that we’re not going to lay down.”
Game Preview: The two schools haven’t met since 1973 when Panthers running back Tony Dorsett was a freshman and rushed for what was then a school-record 265 yards in a 21-14 Pitt win.
This one won’t be as low scoring. Have your food and drinks ready. If you have to see a man about a horse, may I suggest you wait till halftime? If you blink, you may miss a touchdown in this one. Though Northwestern isn’t exactly Oregon offensively, Pitt did allow 61 points to an average Syracuse offense.
Pitt is going to score. The Panthers average 42.3 points per game. The question is, can Pitt’s defense finally step up in their final game of the 2016 season? Not having safety Jordan Whitehead certainly hurts. Despite missing the final two games of the season due to injury, Whitehead was a second-team All-ACC selection at safety by the league’s coaches and media…had 65 total tackles in his nine starts during the regular season before his injury in the win at Clemson.
Pitt will need to shore up leaks in its pass defense after five opposing quarterbacks threw for at least 406 yards. Ryan Lewis and Avonte Maddox will have to find a way to keep Northwestern’s Austin Carr under control. Week after week, the Panther secondary has been abused by every team’s top receiver. Pitt employs a defense where their corners are left on an island, thus relying on them to make a play on a ball when thrown at. That has happened about as often as a no delay trip through Pittsburgh’s Fort Pitt Tunnels.
Whitehead, Maddox, and nose tackle Tyrique Jarrett were out or limited thanks to injuries suffered in the latter stage of the season. Jarrett missed the last three regular-season games, Whitehead the last two and Maddox only started two of the final six games.
A month off between games have allowed a few injuries to heal, and now Pitt’s defense is looking to take advantage of that time off.
“We feel like we have a lot of guys who are healthy, a lot of guys who are back,” Pitt defensive coordinator Josh Conklin said. “We are almost at full strength again. We’re excited to be getting back to playing our brand of ball with guys like Avonte Maddox and Phillipie Motley (CB), all those guys.”
Conklin is especially wary of the aforementioned Carr. “No question, he’s a great player. He does a great job of running routes. He gets open.”
Pitt is the only team to knock off two Power 5 conference championship teams, Penn State (42-39) and Clemson (43-42), so they certainly won’t be intimidated by anyone they play, especially Northwestern. Pitt will attack Northwestern’s defense in a variety of ways, looking for flaws to expose. Peterman and the passing game really stepped it up in the 2nd half of the season.
Keeping the Clayton Thorson to Carr connection and Justin Jackson’s running game contained won’t be easy, but with the way Pitt can pile up the points, just a few stops by the Panthers early on defense could put Northwestern in the unenviable position of playing catch-up all day.
“We can finish in the top 25 with a win, and that’s kind of the thing we’ve been talking about with our defense,” Conklin said. “We want to play better on defense, we want to get our scoring defense down. … Having that opportunity for a month as a staff to go back and self-scout some things and emphasize that to your defense, I think, is kind of the big thing for us.”
Expect to see James Connor ending his Panther career with another 100 yard plus effort with multiple touchdowns, leading Pitt to a 9-4 record and leaving Pitt fans hungry for the start of the 2017 season. Pitt has too many weapons for the Wildcats to keep under wraps.
Prediction: Pitt 52 Northwestern 30
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Pitt Panthers (8-4) vs Northwestern Wildcats (6-6)
Venue: Yankee Stadium, New York, NY.
Game-time: Wednesday, December 28th, 2:00 pm
TV: ESPN | Announcers: Ryan Ruocco (play-by-play) | Mike Golic (analyst) | Mike Golic Jr. (analyst) | Paul Carcaterra (reporter)
Local Radio: Pittsburgh- 93.7 The Fan | Announcers: Bill Hillgrove (play-by-play) Bill Osborne (analyst) | Larry Richert (sideline)
WPTS Radio (Pitt Student Station) • 92.1 FM
National Radio: ESPN Radio | Announcers: Kevin Winter (play-by-play) | Jack Ford (analyst) | CJ Papa (reporter)
SiriusXM Satellite Radio Sirius Channel 80 | XM Channel 80 | Internet Channel 80
Weather at Kickoff: Sunny and 41. Winds 10-15 mph.
Vegas Line: Pitt -5.5
Pitt vs Northwestern Wildcats History
- Series History: Began in 1949
- Pitt is 3-3 against Northwestern
- Pitt is 0-0 against Northwestern at a Neutral Site
- Streak: Pitt won the last meeting
- Last Regular Season Meeting: Sept. 29, 1973 (Pitt 21 Northwestern 14)
- Pitt is 0-0 vs Northwestern in Bowl Games
- James Conner is the most remarkable story in college football this year. The junior running back overcame both Hodgkin lymphoma and a knee injury during the past 12 months to rush for more than 1,000 yards and earn first-team All-ACC this season.
- Sophomore wide receiver Quadree Henderson ranks as one of the nation’s most productive all-purpose performers. Henderson is 11th nationally and second in the ACC with an average of 159.75 all-purpose yards per game. His 1,917 total all-purpose yards are the fifth highest in Pitt history. If Henderson hits his average in the bowl game, he will become only the second player in school history to reach 2,000 all-purpose yards in a season.
- Nathan Peterman ranks among the country’s most efficient passers. Peterman owns an efficiency rating of 161.2, which leads the ACC and ranks ninth nationally. He has thrown for 2,602 yards on 172-of- 288 passing (59.7%) with 26 touchdowns and only six interceptions. Peterman is averaging robust 15.13 yards per completion, which ranks seventh nationally and second in the ACC.
- Senior defensive end Ejuan Price leads the nation in tackles for loss per game (1.8 avg., tied). Exactly half of Price’s 42 tackles this season have been for a loss. The All-America selection has compiled 21 TFLs, 12 quarterback sacks and 13 QB hurries on the year.
- Five true freshmen have played for Pitt this season: wide receiver Maurice Ffrench, cornerback Damar Hamlin, wide receiver Aaron Mathews, running back Chawntez Moss and defensive tackle Amir Watts.
- Pitt has scored 508 points this season, the highest total in school history. The Panthers eclipsed the scoring record in their 11th game, a 56-14 win over Duke (Nov. 19). The prior mark was 428 points set in 1977 over 12 contests. With a bowl game to go, the Panthers are averaging 42.3 points per game, which would break the Pitt record of 40.7 set way back in 1904. Only 13 teams in Pitt football history have averaged more than 30 points per game.
- Pitt makes its 33rd all-time postseason appearance when it faces Northwestern in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. This is the ninth consecutive year—and 14th time in the last 17 seasons—the Panthers have gone bowling.
- Pitt has played twice before at Yankee Stadium. The Panthers went 1-1 in those games, defeating Army (7-6) on Nov. 17, 1962, while losing to Syracuse (3-0) on Oct. 20, 1923.
- 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.
QB- Nathan Peterman (2,602 yards passing | 26 TD passes | 6 interceptions | 9 sacks | 291 yards rushing | 2 rushing TD )
RB- James Conner (1,060 yards rushing | 16 rushing TD’s | 20 receptions | 299 yards receiving | 4 receiving TD’s)
RB- Chawntez Moss (221 yards rushing | 1 rushing TD’s | 2 receptions | 18 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
RB- Darrin Hall (153 yards rushing | 0 rushing TD’s | 2 receptions | 14 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
RB- Qadree Ollison (103 yards rushing | 2 rushing TD’s | 1 receptions | 8 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
FB- George Aston (73 yards rushing | 5 rushing TD’s | 20 receptions | 162 yards receiving | 4 receiving TD’s)
WR- Jester Weah (34 receptions | 795 receiving yards | 9 receiving TD’s)
WR- Quadree Henderson (23 receptions | 241 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s | 555 yards rushing | 5 rushing TD’s)
WR- Dontez Ford (14 receptions | 235 receiving yards | 2 receiving TD’s)
WR- Tre Tipton (12 receptions | 142 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s)
WR- Maurice Ffrench (0 receptions | 0 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s | 122 yards rushing | 2 rushing TD’s)
TE- Scott Orndoff (33 receptions | 558 receiving yards | 5 receiving TD’s)
TE- Jaymar Parrish (4 receptions | 78 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
K- Chris Blewitt (Extra Point: 63-66 | FG: 9-15 | 0-19: 0-0 | 20-29: 2-2 | 30-39: 2-3 | 40-49: 4-7 | 50+: 1-3 | Long: 50
Quadree Henderson (Returns: 28 | Yards 871 | Average: 31.1 | 3 TD’s)
Quadree Henderson (Returns: 14| Yards 250 | Average: 17.9 | 1 TD’s)
QB- Clayton Thorson (2,968 yards passing | 21 TD passes | 8 interceptions | 34 sacks | 82 yards rushing | 5 rushing TD’s)
RB- Justin Jackson (1,300 yards rushing | 12 rushing TD’s | 33 receptions | 213 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
RB- John Moten IV (329 yards rushing | 2 rushing TD’s | 3 receptions | 44 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
WR- Austin Carr (84 receptions | 1,196 receiving yards | 12 receiving TD’s)
WR- Flynn Nagel (37 receptions | 421 receiving yards | 2 receiving TD’s)
WR- Garrett Dickerson (29 receptions | 272 receiving yards | 4 receiving TD’s)
WR- Andrew Scanlon (25 receptions | 296 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
WR- Macan Wilson (19 receptions | 259 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s)
WR- Solomon Vault (15 receptions | 164 receiving yards | 2 receiving TD’s)
K- Jack Mitchell (Extra Point: 38-39 | FG: 7-11 | 0-19: 1-1 | 20-29: 3-4 | 30-39: 2-4 | 40-49: 1-2 | 50+: 0-0 | Long: 40
Team Stats for 2016 Season
Total Offense: Pitt averages 447.5 YPG | Northwestern averages 392.9 YPG
Rushing: Pitt averages 229.8 YPG | Northwestern averages 145.3 YPG
Passing: Pitt averages 217.8 YPG | Northwestern averages 247.7 YPG
Scoring: Pitt averages 42.3 PPG | Northwestern averages 25.6 PPG
Total Defense: Pitt allows 452 YPG | Northwestern allows 401.6 YPG
Rushing: Pitt allows 108.9 YPG | Northwestern allows 136.7 YPG
Passing: Pitt allows 343.1 YPG | Northwestern allows 264.9 YPG
Scoring: Pitt allows 35.6 PPG | Northwestern allows 22.1 PPG
Pitt Panthers 2016 Schedule
Regular Season (Overall: 8-4 | ACC: 5-3)
Sept. 3 Villanova (ACCN Extra) W, 28-7
Sept. 10 Penn State (ESPN) W, 42-39
Sept. 17 at Oklahoma State (ESPN) L, 38-45
Sept. 24 at North Carolina* (ESPNU) L, 36-37
Oct. 1 Marshall (RSN) W, 43-27
Oct. 8 Georgia Tech* (WTAE) (Homecoming) W, 37-34
Oct. 15 at Virginia* (WTAE) W, 45-31
Oct. 27 (Thurs.) Virginia Tech* (ESPN) L, 36-39
Nov. 5 at Miami* (ABC) L, 28-51
Nov. 12 at Clemson* (ABC) W, 43-42
Nov. 19 Duke* (RootSports Pittsburgh) W, 56-14
Nov. 26 Syracuse* (ABC) W, 76-61
Dec. 28 Pinstripe Bowl: Northwestern, (ESPN) 2:00 p.m.