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Pitt will seek warm redemption in Sun Bowl vs. Stanford

Jerry DiPaola
| Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, 4:48 p.m.
Pittsburgh’s Maurice Ffrench runs against Clemson in the first half of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship NCAA college football game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018.
Pittsburgh’s Maurice Ffrench runs against Clemson in the first half of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship NCAA college football game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018.

There was little good that came out of Pitt’s 42-10 loss to Clemson on Saturday night in the ACC championship game.

Senior offensive tackle Alex Bookser found something, though.

“The season’s not over,” he said.

Pitt received its anticipated bowl bid Sunday when the Sun Bowl called with a matchup against Stanford of the Pac-12. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. Dec. 31 in El Paso, Texas.

The 85th annual Sun Bowl gives Pitt (7-6), which is on a two-game losing streak, an opportunity to play another prestigious Power 5 program after losing to three undefeated teams — Central Florida, Notre Dame and Clemson — this season. The latter two are in the College Football Playoff, and Stanford (8-4) is the 11th bowl-eligible team on Pitt’s schedule.

“Some people picked us to win four games this season because of our schedule,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said.

Stanford opened and ended its regular season with four- and three-game winning streaks. In between, the Cardinal were 1-4, including a 38-17 loss at Notre Dame. Pitt lost at Notre Dame, 19-14.

“The biggest thing was battling back from adversity,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “This is the most injuries I’ve ever had in my 12 years as offensive coordinator and head coach at Stanford. Every single game, we were piecing guys together.”

Narduzzi is looking forward to playing a team that resembles his own. Both teams use a pro-style offensive attack, compared to the spread offenses that proliferate college football these days.

“It’s going to be like an old 1985 bowl game,” Narduzzi said. “Both teams will line up with two backs in the backfield. Both teams huddle. Fans might get a kick out of it. They might not know what that is.”

Said Shaw: “The officials are not going to know what to do between plays.”

Narduzzi said the 28-day break between games won’t be a problem for his players and will allow them to concentrate on academics before getting into serious bowl preparation.

“Our seniors are going to look forward to finishing the season out the way we want to finish it out,” he said.

Win or lose, Narduzzi said his players will leave with a good feeling after winning the ACC Coastal for the first time.

“I have a good feeling now,” he said.

Senior linebacker Seun Idowu prefers another 15 practice sessions to what happened last year at this time when Pitt missed a bowl for the first time in 10 years.

“This time last year,” Idowu said, “we were in the weight room just training, watching other teams play.”

Pitt is 1-4 in bowl games since 2011, 0-2 under Narduzzi. Pitt needs a victory to avoid its second consecutive non-winning season.

Pitt most recently and infamously played in the Sun Bowl in 2008, losing 3-0 to Oregon State when Narduzzi was defensive coordinator at Michigan State.

“I don’t know about those zero points that were scored the last time,” he said. “We certainly have to score more than that against a great Stanford team.”

The Panthers won their other two Sun Bowl games, beating Kansas, 33-19, in 1975, and Texas A&M, 31-28, in 1989.

Stanford is one of Pitt’s least familiar all-time opponents. They only have played three times, including a 7-6 Stanford victory in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2, 1928. It was Pitt’s only loss in 10 games that season under coach Jock Sutherland. Pitt’s defense recorded seven shutouts, including a 0-0 tie with Washington & Jefferson.

Pitt won 16-7 at Stanford in 1922 and 7-0 at Pitt Stadium in 1932.

This will be Pitt’s fourth trip to the Sun Bowl and 34th bowl game overall.

Bowl ticket packages will be available from the Pitt Ticket Office beginning at 10 a.m. Monday. Phone: 800-643-7488.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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