Sun Bowl Preview: Pitt Panthers vs Stanford Cardinal

Welcome to the most comprehensive Pitt Panthers Game Day Preview on the internet! This is your one-stop shop for everything you need to know about Pitt and their upcoming opponent! Mike Drakulich of Pittsburgh SportsNation brings you inside the huddle for both teams, providing all fans with a Game Preview, Pitt’s Keys to Victory, Score Prediction, a detailed breakdown of each team, Game Information, Individual Stats, and Team Stats. Heck, you’ll even know the weather at kickoff! The only thing you’re missing is a game uniform!



The last two offensive efforts by the Pitt Panthers haven’t exactly been memorable, especially the last game in the ACC Championship vs Clemson.

“We just did not play our best that game,” Pitt offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said Thursday at a news conference to preview the Sun Bowl. “The thing we’ve got to do is — I’ve got a great group of guys. They are really prideful people, and they want to get that taste out of their mouth and get back to business with how they see themselves, how they see us playing.”

One thing is for sure… Stanford is NOT Clemson or Miami when it comes to defensive prowess. So when Pitt (7-6) takes on the Stanford Cardinal (8-4) on New Years Eve at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, some dignity will be on the line for an offense that was humming prior to the back-to-back debacles to end the season.

“For our guys, for all of us — coaches, too — it’s a matter of pride,” Watson said. “We were rolling and doing really well, and we want to get back to being us. And that’s just us getting back to the fundamentals of the game and going back to work, and we’ve been able to do that during our prep time. It’s been good to get that behind us and now we’ve got to go prove it.”

Starting QB Kenny Pickett hasn’t progressed as many hoped in his first year as starter. Pickett only threw for 1,833 yards in 13 games, with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. He was sacked 30 times. He was downright awful vs Clemson, with a laughable eight yards passing.

“That’s a place that we’ve got to continue to grow at, and that’s a process,” Watson said of the passing game. “It’s always the biggest part of the process, especially with young receivers, a young quarterback, and we’re making our way through that.”

Hopefully, since Pitt left the field in Charlotte, both Pickett and the coaches have figured out a way to complete a few forward passes and not mimic an offense that Pitt may have resembled in the previous encounter between these two teams, that being in 1932 when Pitt beat Stanford 7-0.

“You always can, because you’ve got time,” Watson said about getting Pickett to improve, especially with the extra practices the team has had thanks to the Bowl game.. “You’ve got time, so you’ve always got a chance to add to yourself or put new things in that come off of what you do. You really try to self-scout yourself and try to move forward with some things that look similar, but they’re really not, they’re different.

“In today’s game, you’ve got to really balance yourself up. You’ve got to be able to throw the ball efficiently, as well as run the football. To run the football, you’ve got to throw it, is what I’m saying.”

Stanford’s Bryce Love, who ran for 2,118 yards in 2017, will skip the game to focus on the NFL Draft.

Don’t count on Qadree Ollison or Darren Hall to follow suit.

“When you come in August, you make a commitment to the team for the rest of the year,” Ollison said Thursday after practice. “I’d like to stand on that commitment, no matter if I was projected a first-round pick or projected undrafted, it doesn’t really matter.”

“That’s not me,” Hall agreed. “I wouldn’t do that to the team, and I wouldn’t do that to myself. I’ve worked so hard, and this is the last one.”

Stanford also won’t have offensive lineman Nate Herbig, who will bypass the game as a junior entering the NFL draft a year early.

No Panthers, at least to Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi’s knowledge plan to skip the game.

“I sure hope not,” he said with a smile.

Paris Ford is not with the team in El Paso as of right now, but he is expected to make the trip. He has been home due to personal reasons.

“We’ve actually got Paris working some safety right now, so that’s maybe a position change, but really not far from what our thoughts were with him,” Narduzzi said of Ford, who has barely played this season at cornerback. “Playing corner for as long as he has has helped him understand what he has to do at safety. He’s learning it, he’s been making some plays at safety, so we’ll see. We’ll see how close he gets and see what the practice tape looks like.”

Junior safety Damar Hamlin would certainly like to see Ford alongside him for the 2019 season.

“I feel like Paris always can be a factor, and could’ve been a factor [this season],” Hamlin said. “He’s a safety. That’s what he is. … He just looks comfortable back there. He’s ready to go when his number’s called.”

It’s a big game for the younger players, but also for the seniors, who will be making their final appearances as Panthers. It’ll be one final dance under the fading sun in Texas this Monday.

“I’ve never been to Texas before,” Hall said. “They say everything’s bigger in Texas, so we’ll see how that is.”


Pitt Keys to Victory


  • Kenny Pickett needs to step it up.
  • Pound the ball with Qadree Ollison and Darren Hall.
  • Be creative.


  • Focus on shutting down K.J. Costello and the passing game. He has to be pressured.
  • Create a turnover or two!
  • Limit splash plays by J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.



Hopefully, this game will be much more exciting than Pitt’s previous visit to the Sun Bowl in which they lost to Oregon State 3-0.

Pitt definitely has the horses to quiet the critics and take down Stanford in this game. Look for Pitt to come at Stanford with the one-two punch of Qadree Ollison and Darren Hall, as well as appearances by V’Lique Carter and Maurice Ffrench in the running game. The trick is to not be predictable. Kenny Pickett will have to manage more than eight yards passing as well.

“That’ll sting me,” Pickett said of his last game, then smiled, “until next year when we’re back there. That’ll always be stinging me.”

Pitt head coach Pat Naduzzi is still a believer in his young quarterback.

“He’s the leader on offense. If you talk to a lot of people back in Pittsburgh, they’re saying he didn’t do so well,” Narduzzi said. “I’ve been impressed with what he’s done. He’s still a baby. He’s still learning. He’s very conservative with what he does, because he’s so locked in to making sure he helps the football team. He doesn’t take many shots, he doesn’t take risks, and he took a couple in that Clemson game that really hurt us, especially before the half. We like his conservative play, and he plays within the offense.”

The team has had 30 days to address the problems in the passing game and the void left by center Jimmy Morissey being injured. Stanford’s best player in Bryce Love will be watching the game from the sidelines as he has decided to skip the game to prep for the NFL Draft.

Pitt will have to contend with Stanford’s K.J. Costello who will pick you apart if given enough time. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is Costello’s favorite target, so it would behoove Pitt to focus on keeping him in check as best they can.

Count corner Jason Pinnock as up to the challenge.

“We play ‘press man,’ so it’s one-on-one,” Pinnock said. “May the best man win.”

Naduzzi is well aware of of Arcega-Whiteside’s talents.

“He’s tough. He’s a guy who runs great routes, I think. He’ll swipe you by him, he loves ‘stutter-and-goes’ — he’s a great player,” Narduzzi said of Arcega-Whiteside. “You’ve got to make plays on him.

“Costello throws some great back-shoulder fades, on the outside lanes and the inside lanes, and he throws them everywhere. So that’s what they’ll try to hit on us, and we’ve practiced a lot on those back-shoulder fades.”

Stanford’s offensive coordinator Tavita Pritchard is impressed with what he sees from Pitt’s up and coming defense.

“The challenge to playing the Pitt defense, obviously, is that they have a system that they believe in, and they play it extremely well. They play it very hard,” said Pritchard. “They know that system inside and out. I wouldn’t even say its what they’ve done against certain guys, necessarily, but just in how they play, generally. The two corners outside are phenomenal players. They really do a good job of coming down and challenging you.”

Look for a close game that ends with Pitt grinding out a tough, well earned victory, ending the season on a high note, and setting up high hopes for the 2019 season.

Pitt 27 Stanford 24


Game Information

Sun Bowl

Pitt Panthers vs Stanford Cardinal

Venue: Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, TX. | Field: FieldTurf

Game-time: Monday, December 31st, 2:00 p.m.

Game Tickets Link

TV: CBS-TV (KDKA, Channel 2, in Pittsburgh) | Announcers: Brad Nessler (play-by-play) Gary Danielso (analyst) | Jamie Erdahl (reporter)

Local Radio: Pittsburgh- 93.7 The Fan | Announcers: Bill Hillgrove (play-by-play) Pat Bostick (analyst) | Larry Richert (sideline)

National Radio: Sports USA | Announcers: Wayne Randazzo (play-by-play) John Robinson (analyst) |

Sirius XM Satellite Radio:

Weather at Kickoff: 46 and sunny. Winds WSW 10-15 mph.

Vegas Line: Stanford -5


Pitt vs Stanford History

  • Series History: Began in 1922
  • Pitt is 2-1 overall vs Stanford
  • At Home: 2-0
  • On Road: 0-0
  • Neutral Site: 0-1
  • ACC Series: N/A
  • Streak: Pitt won last meeting.
  • Last Regular Season Meeting: Nov. 26, 1932 (Pitt 7 Stanford 0)
  • Last Post-Season Meeting: Jan. 2, 1928 (Rose Bowl: Stanford 7 Pitt 6)

Did You Know?* 

  • Pitt is 2-1 in the Sun Bowl, winning in 1975 (33-19 vs. Kansas) and 1989 (31-28 vs. Texas A&M). The Panthers’ most recent appearance in the Sun City was in 2008 when they dropped a 3-0 decision to Oregon State.
  • The Panthers are 2-1 all-time against Stanford but the two schools haven’t played in 86 years. The Cardinal won the lone postseason meeting, 7-6, in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2, 1928. Pitt claimed regular-season wins in 1922 (16-7) and 1932 (7-0).
  • Pitt played a national-best 11 bowl-eligible teams this year, including undefeated College Football Playoff entrants Clemson (13-0) and Notre Dame (12-0). The Panthers also faced a 12-0 UCF team that finished No. 8 in the final CFP rankings.
  • The Panthers own a 23-26 record against current members of the Pac-12 Conference. Pitt last played a Pac-12 team during the 2011 season, a 26-14 loss to Utah at Heinz Field. The Panthers’ last bowl game against a Pac-12 team was the Oregon State loss in the 2008 Sun Bowl.
  • Prior to 2018, Pitt never had a 1,000-yard rushing duo in the same season, but senior running backs Qadree Ollison (1,190) and Darrin Hall (1,021) are now the first to reach that shared historic achievement.
  • The Panthers boast the nation’s No. 18 rushing attack with an average of 229.5 yards per game. Stanford is surrendering 140.9 yards on the ground to rank 40th nationally.

    *Courtesy of


A look at the Pitt Panthers!

Scouting the Panthers


Kenny Pickett played in four games last year, making one start as a true freshman. Gifted with a strong arm and the ability to run with the ball if no receivers are open. Jeff George has risen to the #2 spot.

Running Backs

Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison give the Panthers a pair of 1,000 yard rushers. Consider Hall lightning to Ollison’s thunder. George Aston is back at fullback after missing most of 2017. Aston was a beast in 2016 finishing third on the team in scoring (tied) with 60 points on 10 touchdowns (five rushing and five receiving). A.J. Davis was expected to see time this year, but it looks as if 2019 will be his time to shine. V’lique Carter was unleashed against Duke and ran for 137 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries, an incredible average of 19.6 per rush!

Wide Receivers

Pitt is deep at WR, with senior Rafael-Araujo Lopes, juniors Tre Tipton, Maurice Ffrench, and Aaron Mathews, freshman Shocky Jacques-Louis, and Indiana sophomore transfer Taysir Mack. Araujo Lopes, Ffrench, and Mack are the top trio for Pickett. Mathews may not see many passes, but he is an absolute beast blocking downfield in the rushing attack.

Tight Ends

At tight end, sophomore Tyler Sear transferred out, leaving the job to Arkansas transfer Will Gragg and Grant Carrigan. Jim Medure is also in the mix.


Dewayne Hendrix and Rashad Weaver are solidified as Pitt’s defensive ends.

Senior Shane Roy was a starter at nose tackle last year, Amir Watts and redshirt sophomore Keyshon Camp to see time as well. Jaylen Twyman, has been pushing the whole group as a redshirt freshman.

At LB, Oluwaseun Idowu is the starting outside “star” linebacker. Quintin Wirginis was the starter in the middle till he was injured at mid season at practice. Elias Reynolds and Chase Pine are rotating in Wirginis’ absence. Redshirt senior Elijah Zeise and redshirt junior Saleem Brightwell battling for the “money” spot.

Redshirt junior Dane Jackson started all 12 games last year and will assume the same duties as a starting cornerback in 2018. Redshirt senior Phillipie Motley, sophomores Damarri Mathis and Jason Pinnock are all battling for that 2nd spot.

Junior Damar Hamlin starts at free safety, with Dennis Briggs and redshirt sophomore Phil Campbell battling for the starting role at strong safety. Paris Ford is transitioning to safety.


Alex Kessman took over Pitt’s starting placekicking duties in his first active season…converted 11-of-19 field goals (58%) and 34-of-34 PATs (100%) for a team-high 67 points. This year, he’s has nailed four field goals from beyond 50 yards, including a Heinz Field record 55 yarder.

Kick/Punt Return

Maurice Ffrench and Rafael Araujo-Lopes will provide the return duties for the Panthers. Ffrench has already returned two kicks to the house in 2018.

Individual Stats


  • Kenny Pickett (1,833 yards passing | 12 TD passes | 6 interceptions | 30 sacks | 196 yards rushing | 3 rushing TD)

Running Back

  • Qadree Ollison (1,190 yards rushing | 11 rushing TD’s | 11 receptions | 66 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • Darrin Hall (1,021 yards rushing | 9 rushing TD’s | 14 receptions | 60 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • V’Lique Carter (198 yards rushing | 2 rushing TD’s | 3 receptions | 9 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • AJ Davis (107 yards rushing | 0 rushing TD’s | 3 receptions | 17 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)


  • George Aston (10 yards rushing | 1 rushing TD’s | 15 receptions | 68 yards receiving | 1 receiving TD’s)

Wide Receivers

  • Rafael Araujo-Lopes (36 receptions | 367 receiving yards | 4 receiving TD’s)
  • Maurice Ffrench (30 receptions | 466 receiving yards | 6 receiving TD’s | 158 yards rushing | 2 TD’s)
  • Taysir Mack  (21 receptions | 489 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s)
  • Aaron Matthews (9 receptions | 120 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • Shocky Jaques-Louis (9 receptions | 76 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s | 58 yards rushing | 0 TD’s)
  • Tre Tipton (5 receptions | 42 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • Dontavius Butler-Jenkins (4 receptions | 12 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)

Tight Ends

  • Will Gragg (5 receptions | 31 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • Jim Medure (3 receptions | 29 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)


  • Alex Kessman (Extra Point: 39-41 | FG: 11-14 | 0-19:  0-0 | 20-29:  1-1 | 30-39:  2-4 | 40-49:  4-5 | 50+:  4-4 | Long: 55)

Kickoff Returner

  • Maurice Ffrench (27.4 yards per kickoff return | 2 return TD’s)

Punt Returner

  • Rafael Araujo-Lopes (7.9 yards per punt return | 1 return TD’s)



A look at the Stanford Cardinal!

Scouting the Cardinal


K.J. Costello is having an excellent season with 3,435 yards passing with 29 TD’s and 11 interceptions. He has been sacked 20 times.

Running Back

Bryce Love will skip the game to focus on the NFL Draft, so Cameron Scarlett and Trevor Speights will assume the role to replace Love.

Wide Receivers

J.J. Arcega-Whiteside leads the team with 60 receptions, good for 969 yards and 14 touchdowns. Trenton Irwin is co-leader with 60 catches as well, but for only 685 yards and two scores. Michael Wilson, Osiris St. Brown, Connor Wedington are Stanford’s other options at receiver, but have combined for just 29 receptions between them.

Tight Ends

Kaden Smith has 47 receptions for 635 yards and a pair of touchdowns.


Stanford gives up 23.8 points per game and allows an average of 415.6 yards to opposing teams. Stanford allows 140.9 yards on the ground, and can be had through the air, giving up 274.7 yards per contest.


Individual Stats


  • K.J. Costello (3,435 yards passing | 29 TD passes | 11 interceptions | 20 sacks | -1 yards rushing | 0 rushing TD)

Running Back

  • Bryce Love (739 yards rushing | 6 rushing TD’s | 20 receptions | 99 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • Cameron Scarlett (236 yards rushing | 6 rushing TD’s | 10 receptions | 109 yards receiving | 1 receiving TD’s)
  • Trevor Speights (221 yards rushing | 1 rushing TD’s | 6 receptions | 52 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
  • Dorian Maddox (80 yards rushing | 1 rushing TD’s | 1 receptions | 12 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)

Wide Receivers

  • J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (60 receptions | 969 receiving yards | 14 receiving TD’s)
  • Trenton Irwin (60 receptions | 685 receiving yards | 2 receiving TD’s)
  • Michael Wilson (12 receptions | 120 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s)
  • Osiris St. Brown (8 receptions | 204 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s)
  • Connor Wedington (9 receptions | 65 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)

Tight Ends

  • Kaden Smith (47 receptions | 635 receiving yards | 2 receiving TD’s)
  • Colby Parkinson (28 receptions | 476 receiving yards | 7 receiving TD’s)


  • Jet Toner (Extra Point: 32-32 | FG: 14-15 | 0-19:  1-1 | 20-29:  4-4 | 30-39:  6-7 | 40-49:  3-3 | 50+:  0-0 | Long: 46)




Total Offense: Pitt averages 371.8 YPG | Stanford averages 395.4 YPG

  • Rushing: Pitt averages 229.5 YPG | Stanford averages 108.3 YPG
  • Passing: Pitt averages 142.2 YPG | Stanford averages 287.1 YPG
  • Scoring: Pitt averages 26.6 PPG | Stanford averages 29.6 PPG


Total Defense: Pitt allows 401.4 YPG | Stanford allows 415.6 YPG

  • Rushing: Pitt allows 184.1 YPG | Stanford allows 140.9 YPG
  • Passing: Pitt allows 217.3 YPG | Stanford allows 274.7 YPG
  • Scoring: Pitt allows 28.8 PPG | Stanford allows 23.8 PPG

Defensive Stats

  • Pitt (Sacks: 29 | Interceptions: 9 | Fumbles: 9)
  • Stanford (Sacks: 34 | Interceptions: 11 | Fumbles: 7)


Injury Report (12/28/2018)

Pitt Panthers

  • Out: LB Quintin Wirginis (Knee), DL Keyshon Camp (Upper Body), C Jimmy Morissey
  • Doubtful: None
  • Questionable: None
  • Probable: None

Stanford Cardinal

  • Out: CB Alameen Murphy, RB Bryce Love, OL Nate Herbig
  • Doubtful: None
  • Questionable: LB Andrew Pryts, LB Casey Toohill, C Drew Dalman, TE Kaden Smith, LB Mustafa Branch
  • Probable: None


ACC Standings


Pitt Panthers 2018 Schedule

Regular Season (Overall: 7-6 |  ACC: 6-2)

Sept. 1      Albany                     W- 33-7
Sept. 8      #13 Penn State        L- 51-6
Sept. 15     Georgia Tech*        W- 24-19
Sept. 22     at North Carolina*   L- 38-35
Sept. 29     at #13 UCF               L- 45-14
Oct. 6        Syracuse* (HC)        W- 44-37
Oct. 13      at #5 Notre Dame    L- 19-14
Oct. 27      Duke*                      W- 54-45
Nov. 2       at #25 Virginia*        W- 23-13
Nov. 10     Virginia Tech*         W- 52-22
Nov. 17     at Wake Forest*       W- 34-13
Nov. 24     at Miami*                 L- 24-3


Dec. 1       ACC Championship Game (in Charlotte): vs #2 Clemson  L- 42-10

Dec. 31     Sun Bowl (in El Paso) vs Stanford, 2:00 p.m.

*ACC game |  (HC) Homecoming  | Bold = Home Game

Author Profile

Mike DrakulichYour source for Pittsburgh sports!
From Midland, "The Basketball Capital of Pennsylvania", located 35 miles NW of Pittsburgh along the Ohio River. This former steel town was home to storied athletes such as Dave Alston, Norm Van Lier, Simmie Hill, and the legendary 1965 Midland High School Basketball Team.

There's nowhere on earth that is more dedicated to its sports teams like Western Pennsylvania and the city of Pittsburgh. The passion and pride of Pittsburgh's fan base is second to no one. From the NFL, NHL, MLB, NCAA football and basketball, to W.P.I.A.L. high school sports, "The City of Champions" has it all!

As Editor of Pittsburgh SportsNation, Mike Drakulich provides top notch opinions and coverage of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pittsburgh Pirates, Pitt Panthers football & basketball, Robert Morris Colonials basketball, and Duquesne Dukes basketball, as well as all sports teams that represent Western Pennsylvania, including WPIAL High School Football.

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