Expect a Lot of Offensive When Pitt Meets Northwestern in Wednesday’s New Era Pinstripe Bowl

NEW YORK (EYT) – When Pitt meets Northwestern at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium expect plenty of offense.

(Photo of James Conner, Pitt’s 1,000-yard rusher. Photo courtesy of Pitt Athletics)

The two teams have combined to average 840.4 yards per game in total offense and nearly 68 (67.9) points per game.

Pitt (8-4) ranks 11th in the country in scoring (42.3 ppg) and 40th in total offense (447.5) and has scored at least 40 points in each of its last three games including 76 in its regular-season finale vs. Syracuse.

Northwestern (6-6), meanwhile, ranks sixth in the Big Ten in total offense (392.9 yards per game) while averaging 25.6 points per game, and the Wildcats have the nation’s 52nd ranked passing offense (247.7 yards per game).

It’s that passing offense that could give the Panthers fits, as Pitt is 127th out of 128 FBS schools in passing defense allowing 343,1 yards per game. That is a big reason the Panthers rank 108th in scoring defense allowing 35.6 points per contest.

The lack of a pass defense is one of the reasons Pitt has beaten two teams that finished in the Top Five in the Bowl Playoff Rankings (Clemson and Penn State) but still lost four games. The Panthers have given up at least 35 points seven times including 61 to a shorthanded Syracuse team in the regular-season finale – a game Pitt won 76-61.

Northwestern has the weapons to test the Pitt pass coverage led by sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson, who was an honorable mention All-Big Ten quarterback after going 257 of 448 for 2,968 yards and 21 touchdowns, which ties the single-season scoring passes mark at the school. His 2,968 passing yards are the fourth most in a season at Northwestern.

A big reason for Thorson’s success has been senior wideout Austin Carr, who was the Richter-Howard Big Ten Receiver of the Year after leading the league in receptions (84), receiving yards (1,196) and touchdowns (12). He tied the Northwestern single-season record for receiving TDs and his catches and yards rank second in school history. Carr has six 100-yard receiving games.

What makes the passing game click for the Wildcats is the presence of a strong running game as well.

Justin Jackson led the Big Ten in rushing with 1,300 yards and was a first-team All-Big Teen running back. He is the first player in Northwestern history to run for 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. Jackson scored 12 touchdowns and had 173 yards and three scores in a 42-21 regular-season ending win over Illinois. The junior ranks second in school history with 3,905 career rushing yards and fourth with 4,478 all-purpose yards.

While Pitt has struggled on defense all season, Northwestern has been pretty strong.

The Wildcats, who lost three games by four points or less including a one-point loss to unbeaten Western Michigan and a four-point loss to playoff-bound Ohio State, allow 22.1 points per game, which ranks fifth in the Big Ten and 24th in the nation. Northwestern was particularly strong against the run ranking 31st in the country giving up 136.7 yards per contest.

That rush defense will be tested by a Pitt offense that is explosive on the ground.

Pitt ranks 26th in the nation in rushing offense at 229.8 yards per contest led by James Conner, who is fifth in the ACC In rushing at 88.3 yards per game. Conner, who missed nearly all of last season with a knee injury before being diagnosed with cancer, has rushed for 1,060 yards and 16 touchdowns, ranking third in rushing TDs in the conference.

Quadree Henderson has added 555 yards rushing and five touchdowns and is an all-around threat. The sophomore also has 23 catches for 241 yards and a score and has returned three kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns.

Pitt’s most improved player, perhaps, is senior quarterback Nathan Peterman, who is completing nearly 60 percent of his passes (172 of 288) for 2,602 yards and 26 touchdowns while tossing just six picks.

Peterman’s favorite target is Jester Weah, who has 34 catches for 795 yards and nine touchdowns. Tight end Scott Orndoff is als enjoying a strong season with 33 grabs for 558 yards and five scores.

Both teams have top-notch defensive players as well.

For Pitt it starts with defensive lineman Ejuan Price. An All-American, Price has 42 tackles including 21 for a loss with 12 sacks and 13 quarterback hurries.

Northwestern has a pretty good defensive end of its own in Ifeadi Odenigo, who led the Big Ten with 10 sacks while garnering All-League honors.

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