By: Andrew Bowen
The Northwestern Wildcats (6-6, 5-4 B1G) will have a tough matchup on their hands when they take on the Pitt Panthers (8-4, 5-3 ACC) in the Pinstripe Bowl. The Panthers beat the No. 2 and No. 5 teams in the country in Clemson and Penn State, and come into the Bronx with one of the best rushing attacks in the nation. The ‘Cats will have their work cut out for them at Yankee Stadium, and with some quality football ahead in the Bronx, here are some matchups to watch in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl:
- Justin Jackson vs. James Conner: The Pinstripe Bowl will feature two of the nation’s top junior running backs in Northwestern’s Justin Jackson and Pitt’s James Conner. Both backs have rushed for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns each during the 2016 campaign, and have been workhorses for their respective teams. Expect both teams to rely on their lead backs.
- Northwestern Passing Offense vs. Pitt’s Passing Defense: Northwestern pass offense features the explosive combo of sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson with senior Wide Receiver Austin Carr. Opposite Carr and Thorson, Pitt’s pass defense ranks No. 127 in the country and the Panthers had just 8 interceptions this year – 11th in the ACC. If the Panthers can’t slow down Carr, it might be a long day on defense for Pat Narduzzi’s squad.
- Northwestern’s Offensive Line vs. Ejuan Price: Pitt generated 39 sacks this season, good for 3rd in the ACC. 12 of those 39 sacks came from Pitt’s star DE Ejuan Price. Northwestern’s offensive front has been suspect this year, allowing 35 sacks total and they’ll have to find a way to keep Clayton Thorson upright in order to move the ball.
- Godwin Igwebuike vs. Nathan Peterman: Peterman leads the ACC in passer rating with a 161.2 and has been playing better as of late. Opposite Peterman, Godwin Igwebuike was named to the All Big Ten defensive team and has been a cornerstone of the Wildcats’ secondary this year. However, Northwestern’s secondary has allowed the most passing yards in the Big Ten and ranks No. 108 in the FBS, so look for Pitt to try and exploit this matchup with Peterman under center.
The ‘Cats are seeking their first bowl win since 2012 while the Panthers have lost four of their last five bowl games. Who comes out of the Bronx with a win will certainly be determined by the above matchups.
The Pinstripe Bowl kicks off live from Yankee Stadium at 1:00 pm CST and WNUR Sports will have the call starting with the pregame show at 12:00 pm CST.