Pinstripe Bowl grades: RB Justin Jackson carries Northwestern to win over Pitt

Wildcats' running back has his best game of the season in bowl victory over the Panthers.

| 3 months ago
(Adam Hunger, Getty Images)

(Adam Hunger, Getty Images)

Pinstripe Bowl grades: RB Justin Jackson carries Northwestern to win over Pitt


Northwestern Wildcats 31, Pittsburgh Panthers 24

Here are the top-graded players in Northwestern’s 31-24 win over Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl:

Northwestern Wildcats

Quarterback grade: Clayton Thorson, 55.8

Thorson gets away with dangerous throws as offense is carried to victory by ground game

Clayton Thorson was lucky not to have at least one more turnover in the game, as he got away with a number of risky throws, trying to force passes in to receivers, on top of his interception and fumbled lateral. It was far from his worst performance of the year, but 98 of his 214 yards came after the catch, as his receivers did a lot of the work, although his offensive line didn’t do him any favors in pass protection.

Top offensive grades:

RB Justin Jackson, 83.1

WR Macan Wilson, 72.3

WR Austin Carr, 69.7

WR Andrew Scanlan, 65.2

TE Garrett Dickerson, 61.5   

Jackson posts season-best grade in explosive performance

Justin Jackson evidently saved his best for last this year, as Pittsburgh had no answers for the explosive running back. He forced 11 missed tackles on 32 carries and picked up a remarkable 161 yards after contact in the game. His offensive line struggled to open holes for him, especially on the interior, but he made the most out of every inch of space they gave him and carried his team to victory in a masterful performance.

Top defensive grades:

S Jared McGee, 86.1

LB Anthony Walker Jr., 76.6

ED Ifeadi Odenigbo, 74.9

ED Joe Gaziano, 70.9

ED Xavier Washington, 67.3

McGee saves Wildcats lead, seals win with late interception

Jared McGee was only on the field for 22 of his defense’s 63 plays, but he absolutely delivered when Northwestern needed him most. He was not directly targeted in 18 coverage snaps, but he took it on himself to make plays on the ball, breaking up a would-be game-tying touchdown on 3rd-and-10 and following it up with a game-sealing interception on the next play. McGee got some help from his pass rush, which was able to get good pressure on both Pittsburgh quarterbacks and hurry Ben DiNucci’s first interception throw.

Pittsburgh Panthers

Quarterback grade: Nathan Peterman, 72.2; Ben DiNucci, 62.7

DiNucci unable to put offense over the top after Peterman leaves with injury

The Panthers’ offense lost a level of potency after Nathan Peterman left with a head injury. The starter had his group rolling with an effective downfield passing attack, completing six out of his eight attempts that traveled more than 10 yards in the air. Then once Ben DiNucci took over, there was a drop-off. The backup was not a complete liability, making plays with his feet and firing a few nice passes downfield, but he couldn’t pull through in the clutch, and his late interceptions will ultimately tell his story from the game.

Top offensive grades:

RT Brian O’Neill, 78.8

WR Dontez Ford, 75.1

QB Nathan Peterman, 72.2

RG Alex Bookser, 71.6

WR Quadree Henderson, 68.7

Panthers offensive line is solid, but running backs fail to open up ground game 

The jet sweep and end around wide receiver rushing attack was working well for Pittsburgh, but even with reliable blocking from the offensive line, the Panthers’ running backs were unable to get the ground game going consistently. Even before he got injured, James Connor didn’t break a single tackle on eight carries, and Qadree Ollison and Chawntez Moss couldn’t do much better in his place. All three running backs combined to average only 1.44 yards after contact per carry, as Northwestern defenders had little trouble bringing them down on first contact.

Top defensive grades:

DT Jeremiah Taleni, 88.6

LB Matt Galambos, 88.3

CB Avonte Maddox, 87.1

ED Ejuan Price, 85.8

DT Shakir Soto, 78.7

Taleni and Price prove to be too much to handle for Northwestern offensive line

The Panthers were able to control the Wildcats’ offensive line inside and out thanks to Jeremiah Taleni and Ejuan Price, who were seemingly unblockable at times. Northwestern’s quick passing attack made it difficult for either to rack up too much tangible pass-rushing production, but they both had quite a few plays where they destroyed blocks less than a second after Clayton Thorson released the ball. Taleni in particular disrupted a lot of Justin Jackson’s zone runs and forced him to make plays on the outside instead.

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