Justin Jackson

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Justin Jackson’s career day helps Northwestern nip No. 23 Pitt in Pinstripe Bowl

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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.

Red-zone stands, Justin Jackson push Northwestern to halftime lead on No. 23 Pitt in Pinstripe Bowl

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Northwestern’s defense bent to the point of breaking but (mostly) never snapped, leading the Big Ten school to a surprisingly defensive 14-10 halftime lead on No. 23 Pittsburgh in the 7th annual New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.

Already up 3-0 late in the first quarter, Pitt was looking at a fourth and goal from the Northwestern one-yard line that if successful would’ve extend its lead to two scores.  Instead, leading rusher James Conner was stuffed for no gain, with the Wildcats flipping that turnover on downs into a 10-play, 99-yard drive that was aided greatly by a 68-yard Justin Jackson run and capped off by Jackson’s eight-yard touchdown run.  The junior running back accounted for 88 rushing yards by himself on that drive.

The Panthers, though, seemed poised on the ensuing possession to regain the lead.  On a second and goal from the 10-yard line following a false start penalty, however, Nathan Peterman was picked off by the Wildcats’ Godwin Igwebuike with just under 13 minutes remaining in the second quarter.  Pitt’s defense, though, returned the favor, with Avonte Maddox intercepting a Clayton Thorson pass in the end zone five minutes later to snuff out a Wildcats’ scoring opportunity.

The Panthers’ offense could do nothing with the gift, handing the ball right back to the Wildcats on a three and out.  Eight plays and 74 yards later, another Jackson touchdown run, this one from 16 yards out, pushed the lead to 14-3 with just over three minutes remaining in the half.  In addition to scoring both touchdowns, Jackson ran for 147 yards on his 18 carries.

On the next possession for Pitt, however, it was the big play that got the Panthers back into the game, with Peterman hitting Jester Weah on a beautifully-thrown 69-yard touchdown pass just 17 seconds after the Wildcats’ second score.

The fact that the Wildcats held the high-scoring Panthers to a mere 10 points through two quarters was, along with Jackson’s play, the story of the first half.

Pitt came into today’s game 11th in the country in scoring at 42.3 points per game.  The Panthers scored at least 36 points in 10 of 12 regular season games, and in the other two they scored 28.  In their regular-season finale, they scored 76 points in a win over Syracuse.

Despite the relative lack of points, both teams moved the ball relatively well.  Northwestern finished with 294 yards of total offense, Pitt 264.  The Panthers came into the game averaging 447.5 yards per game while the Wildcats are less than 100 yards away from hitting their seasonal average of 392.9.

Having deferred after winning the pregame coin toss, Pitt will open the second half on offense.

Big Ten latest Power Five to release list of players attending media days

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The SEC and Big 12 did it yesterday.  Now the Big Ten is following suit.

The “it,” of course, is releasing the list of players who will attend this year’s Big Ten Football Media Days and Kickoff Luncheon, which this year will take place July 25-26 in Chicago.  Along with their respective head coaches, each of the 14 teams in the conference will send three players apiece to the event.

According to the conference, the media opportunity will feature 15 returning All-Big Ten selections from last season, including six first-team honorees in Iowa’sDesmond King, Maryland’s William Likely, Michigan’s Jake Butt and Jourdan Lewis, Northwestern’s Anthony Walker Jr. and Ohio State’s Pat Elflein. Attendees who have earned second- or third-team all-conference accolades include Indiana’s Dan Feeney, Iowa’s C.J. Beathard and Josey Jewell, Michigan State’s Riley Bullough and Josiah Price, Nebraska’s Jordan Westerkamp, Northwestern’s Justin Jackson and Matthew Harrisand Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan.

Below is the complete list of attendees:

EAST DIVISION

INDIANA
Dimitric Camiel, Sr., OL
Dan Feeney, Sr., OL*
Marcus Oliver, Jr., LB

MARYLAND
William Likely, Sr., DB*
Jermaine Carter, Jr., LB
Michael Dunn, Sr., OL

MICHIGAN
Jake Butt, Sr., TE*
Amara Darboh, Sr., WR
Jourdan Lewis, Sr., CB*

MICHIGAN STATE
Riley Bullough, Sr., LB*
Josiah Price, Sr., TE*
R.J. Shelton, Sr., WR

OHIO STATE
J.T. Barrett, Jr., QB
Pat Elflein, Sr., C*
Raekwon McMillan, Jr., LB*

PENN STATE
Brandon Bell, Sr., LB
Brian Gaia, Sr., C
Nyeem Wartman-White, Sr., LB

RUTGERS
Darius Hamilton, Sr., DT
Andre Patton, Sr., WR
Julian Pinnix-Odrick, Sr., DL

WEST DIVISION

ILLINOIS
Wes Lunt, Sr., QB
Dawuane Smoot, Sr., DE
Ke’Shawn Vaughn, So., RB

IOWA
C.J. Beathard, Sr., QB*
Josey Jewell, Jr., LB*
Desmond King, Sr., DB*

MINNESOTA
Mitch Leidner, Sr., QB
Jack Lynn, Sr., LB
Damarius Travis, Sr., S

NEBRASKA
Tommy Armstrong Jr., Sr., QB
Josh Banderas, Sr., LB
Jordan Westerkamp, Sr., WR*

NORTHWESTERN
Matthew Harris, Sr., CB*
Justin Jackson, Jr., RB*
Anthony Walker Jr., Jr., LB*

PURDUE
Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jr., LB
Jake Replogle, Sr., DT
DeAngelo Yancey, Sr., WR

WISCONSIN
Vince Biegel, Sr., LB
Dare Ogunbowale, Sr., RB
Sojourn Shelton, Sr., CB

No. 23 Tennessee sets stage for 2016 by pasting No. 13 Northwestern in Outback Bowl

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Do you hear that? Off in the distance? That faint “whoo!” you hear is the sound of Tennessee’s hype train, chugging hard toward the next season.

The 23rd-ranked Vols kicked off what they hope will be a big 2016 by whipping No. 13 Northwestern 45-6 in the Outback Bowl Friday afternoon in Tampa. The 39-point margin was the largest in Outback Bowl history.

Tennessee started slowly, not denting the scoreboard until the 14 second mark of the first quarter on a 14-yard Joshua Dobbs run. Aaron Medley nudged the lead to 10-0 with a 35-yard field goal at the 10:47 mark of the second quarter, and Northwestern showed its only sign of life for the entire afternoon when Justin Jackson capped a 75-yard, five-minute touchdown drive with a five-yard dash, pulling the Wildcats to within 10-6 (Jack Mitchell‘s PAT try failed).

The Vols immediately answered by racing 75 yards in nine plays, culminating in an 11-yard Alvin Kamara run, effectively putting the game out of Northwestern’s reach at 17-6 with 2:18 left in the first half.

Jalen Hurd added a three-yard run in the third quarter, and Dobbs and John Kelly added scoring dashes of their own in the fourth quarter. Evan Berry put the exclamation point on the Vols’ day by returning an interception 99 yards for a touchdown with eight seconds left in the game.

The interception capped an abysmal day for the Northwestern (10-3) offense. Zack Oliver and Clayton Thornson combined to complete 14-of-33 throws for 129 yards with no scores and four interceptions. The ground attack was out-gained 226-130, and the Wildcats converted only four of 15 third-down tries.

Tennessee (9-4) closed the year with wins in their final five games and losses to national finalist Alabama by five, national semifinalist Oklahoma in double overtime, to Florida by one and to Arkansas by four. Though perhaps we should ask the 2014 Tennessee Volunteers what a major bowl victory does for next season. That Tennessee team closed with four wins in five tries and a shellacking of Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl — only to start this season 3-4, while Iowa plays in the Rose Bowl later today.

But with Dobbs (166 passing yards, 48 rushing yards, two touchdowns) and Hurd (24 carries for 130 yards and a touchdown) returning, the Vols will be heavy favorites to reach Atlanta for the SEC Championship game, and perhaps even return to Tampa for the 2016 national championship game. With eight months to speculate, there’s no telling how high expectations could rise for Butch Jones and company.

When that train is barreling upon you in July and August, don’t say you didn’t hear it coming.

Indiana and former UAB RB Jordan Howard declares early for 2016 NFL Draft

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One of the top running backs in the Big Ten is turning pro. Indiana junior running back Jordan Howard has announced his decision to skip his final year of eligibility with the Hoosiers and enter the 2016 NFL Draft. Howard, who transferred to Indiana from UAB, released a lengthy statement expressing his thanks to many who have supported him along the way during his college career, including his parents, teammates at Indiana and UAB and coaches at both programs.

Howard is the 11th player in Indiana history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season and he ranks 12th in program history for single-season rushing yards. Howard appeared in just nine games this season for Indiana, yet he finsihed third in the Big Ten in rushing yards with 1,213 yards. Only Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott and Northwestern’s Justin Jackson finished with more rushing yards. Howard transferred to Indiana following the shutting down of the UAB program last year. At UAB, Howard rushed for 1,587 yards and 13 touchdowns for the Blazers in 2014. UAB clearly holds a special place in Howard’s heart. On his Twitter account, he has a tweet from December 2014 pinned to the top for all to see.

“My sincerest thanks to all of my coaches and teammates at Indiana University and the University of Alabama-Birmingham,” Howard’s statement said. “I would like to personally thank former UAB coach Garrick McGee for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to play at the collegiate level.”