Pitt is set to take on Northwestern in the Pinstripe Bowl, so here are some storylines and predictions for the Panthers ahead of the game.
Pitt will battle Northwestern in the Pinstripe Bowl on Wednesday, Dec. 28 at Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, NY.
The Panthers (8-4, 5-3 ACC) defeated ACC champion Clemson as well as Big Ten champion Penn State in an impressive 2016 campaign. And head coach Pat Narduzzi will be facing another Big Ten foe in this one, which should not be unfamiliar after serving as the longtime defensive coordinator at Michigan State.
This game will be the ninth straight postseason contest the Panthers have played in, and Narduzzi is looking for his first bowl win with Pitt after falling to Navy in the Military Bowl last season to cap off an 8-5 campaign.
Casual college football fans may assume that the Pitt defense is solid because of Narduzzi being the team’s head coach. For whatever reason, that has been anything but the case in 2016. While the Panthers have put up 175 points during their three-game winning streak over Clemson, Duke and Syracuse, they have allowed 117 in that same span.
In the team’s regular-season finale, the Panthers finished with 644 total yards in a 76-61 (!!!) win over the Orange. Quarterback Nathan Peterman threw four touchdown passes on only nine completed passes, while star running back James Conner had 115 yards and two scores on the ground. Conner recorded 1,060 yards and 16 touchdowns in his special comeback season.
Don’t expect the Panthers to find too much resistance from this Northwestern defense. The team’s 51-28 loss at Miami on Nov. 5 was the only game against an FBS team in which it failed to score 36 or more points. It was the best offense in school history, which is a big reason why LSU was able to snag OC Matt Canada for the same position, forcing Pitt to seek a new OC for the fourth consecutive season and third in a row under Narduzzi. Canada will coach the team in the bowl game, though, as he wants to send his guys out with a win. There’s no question it isn’t an ideal situation for the Pitt offense, but don’t expect much drop off in production against the Wildcats. The unit, led by Conner, will be focused.
That defense though
The Panthers have been very porous defending their opponents’ passing game all season. Pitt is ranked No. 127 in the country against the pass, giving up 343.1 yards per contest. Only Arizona State’s defense has given up more yards per game through the air in ’16. Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson has struggled with consistency all fall, but he shouldn’t find too much trouble moving the football. He may have a turnover or two, but he should easily eclipse the 200-yard mark and connect on a couple of touchdowns.
No drama needed
The highlight of Pitt’s season was unquestionably knocking off Clemson on the road, handing the Tigers their only setback of the year. The Panthers were three-touchdown underdogs but won, 43-42, on a 48-yard field goal by Chris Blewitt. Such heroics won’t be necessary in this one. Pat Fitzgerald’s squad will put up a fight for a few quarters, but Pitt’s offense will wear down the Wildcats. That’s important for Pitt, as three of its four losses this season have come by one possession or less.
Quadree Henderson has four return touchdowns this season, including a nation-best three kick return scores. He may not have one against the Wildcats, but he will have two long returns that get Pitt near or across midfield for short scoring drives. He’s been one of the most electric players in the nation all season, though it still seems as though he has gone under the radar.
The Price is right
Sixth-year senior end Ejuan Price finished second in ACC defensive player of the year voting, as he was a beast in the opposing backfield. If you’re unfamiliar, Price is the Panther who likes to roll up his football pants so his legs feel less restricted. He has been dominant over the last two seasons, and he has had only two games this season in which he has not registered a sack. He will get to Thorson in this one.