Pinstripe Bowl Rapid Recap: Northwestern 31, No. 23 Pittsburgh 24

Justin+Jackson+celebrates+a+touchdown.+The+junior+running+back+found+the+end+zone+three+times+against+No.+23+Pittsburgh.+

Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

Justin Jackson celebrates a touchdown. The junior running back found the end zone three times against No. 23 Pittsburgh.

Garrett Jochnau, Sports Editor

NEW YORK — It took a while, but the 2016 Pinstripe Bowl eventually transformed into the back-and-forth shootout many expected.

And in a game brimming with big plays and scores, Northwestern (7-6, 5-4 Big Ten) came up with enough defensive stops down the stretch to pull ahead of No. 23 Pittsburgh (8-5, 5-3 ACC), 31-24.

NU began slowly, sandwiching a Pittsburgh field goal with two punts on its opening possessions. And when the Panthers drove down the field on the subsequent drive, it looked as though the Wildcats would be playing catch-up to Pittsburgh’s distinguished offense.

But NU caught a break when Panthers fullback George Aston slipped before the goal line on a sure score, and the Cats’ subsequent stop on fourth down changed the game’s narrative. When junior running back Justin Jackson took a handoff 68 yards from NU’s own 2-yard line on the ensuing drive, the tide had turned. Jackson, who finished the first half with 147 yards and two touchdowns, led the Cats to a 14-10 halftime advantage.

The Panthers opened the second half with a 57-yard run to set up an eventual rushing touchdown from quarterback Nathan Peterman, which Jackson countered with a 40-yard run to the house as his explosive performance continued, lifting NU back ahead 21-17.

The two traded touchdowns — with Pittsburgh taking advantage of a blocked punt while fourth-down conversions gave the Cats life — until NU broke the back-and-forth action with a fumble recovery. The ensuing field goal put the the Cats up 31-24, and an interception on the Panthers’ final drive by junior safety Kyle Queiro sealed the bowl win for NU.

Takeaways

1. The showdown began surprisingly slowly

Pittsburgh entered the contest with the nation’s No. 11 offense averaging 42.3 points per game, setting the stage for a shootout. But after kicking a field goal on their first possession, the Panthers failed to score again until the final minutes of the first half — the product of both their mistakes and strong defense from the Cats.

NU totaled 294 yards in the first half, but found much of its success on the ground and not through the air, despite Pittsburgh’s poor track record defending the pass.

2. The Wildcats converted in third- and fourth-down situations

While Pittsburgh left points on the board early, failing to convert on the first-quarter fourth-and-goal, NU impressed in pressure situations.

The Cats finished 9-of-19 on third-down conversions and succeeded in moving the chains on all four fourth-down opportunities — all of which came on drives that resulted in a touchdown.

The team’s lone hiccup came in the first quarter when sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson’s pass to senior receiver Austin Carr was intercepted in the endzone, but NU ultimately converted on 3-of-4 red zone chances.

3. Turnovers and mistakes defined the game

The Panthers’ tide-turning turnover on downs at the goal line was just the beginning. Later in the opening period, Thorson and Peterman traded red zone interceptions as the offenses struggled to put points on the board.

Pittsburgh emerged with a crucial special teams play on a blocked punt with under two minutes remaining in the third, setting up a go-ahead touchdown.

But it was the Cats who came up with the biggest turnovers of the day. The forced-fumble allowed them to pull ahead by a full touchdown, and a fourth-down interception deep in their own territory with under three minutes remaining and another on the Panthers’ final possession ensured NU’s victory.

Stats

– Justin Jackson: 224 rushing yards, 3 touchdowns.
– Thorson eclipsed 3,000 passing yards on the season, becoming the fourth Northwestern quarterback to do so in a single year.
– Austin Carr: 6 catches for 51 yards.
– NU is now 3-10 in bowl games

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @GarrettJochnau

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