If you’re a fan of Northwestern football, go ahead and send all of your thank you notes and/or cards to Justin Jackson, c/o NU athletics. Although, you could save some for the secondary as well.
Thanks in very large part to Jackson’s career day, Northwestern (7-6) was able to hold off No. 23 Pittsburgh (8-5) and stake its claim to the 7th annual New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium with a 31-24 win. The victory was the Wildcats’ first in a bowl game since 2012 and just the third ever since the program was established in 1892.
And, again, thanks be to Jackson. The junior running back gashed the Panthers defense for 224 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries. His previous career-high was 188, set in a mid-October win over Michigan State earlier this season.
Jackson was part of a back-and-forth second half, with the lead changing hands four times in the last two quarters after the Wildcats had taken a 14-10 lead into the halftime locker room. What turned out to be the final lead change didn’t involve Jackson, though, as Clayton Thorson connected with Garrett Dickerson for a 21-yard touchdown pass on a fourth and one with 8:23 remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Panthers a four-point lead.
On the first play of the ensuing possession, Quadree Henderson, playing in pace of the injured James Conner, fumbled the ball back to the Wildcats at the Panthers’ 27-yard line; four plays later, a Jack Mitchell 37-yard field goal extended the lead to seven.
Pitt’s second-to-last chance to tie the game nearly ended in a touchdown but for a tremendous defensive play in the end zone and instead came to a halt on an interception tossed by Ben DiNucci, who prior to this game had never attempted a pass at the collegiate level. The redshirt freshman was in the game because starter Nathan Peterman sustained a third-quarter head injury and didn’t return. Conner suffered the same fate on the same type of injury in the same quarter.
Another DiNucci interception with 1:22 left sealed the Panthers’ third consecutive bowl loss. The 24 points were the fewest for a Pitt offense this season that came into the game 11th in the country in scoring at 42.3 points per game.
Interestingly, with Pitt’s loss, ranked teams are off to an 0-3 start to the bowl season. The Big Ten is 2-1 this postseason, while the ACC suffered its first loss after winning its first three.