Northwestern-Kentucky Music City Bowl: Recap, score, analysis
Northwestern held on for a 24-23 victory over Kentucky in the Music City Bowl on Friday afternoon in Nashville. Pat Fitzgerald’s team won its second bowl game in a row and finished the season 10-3 and on an eight-game winning streak.
Northwestern-Kentucky score, live updates
Northwestern-Kentucky game time, details
Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
Date: Friday, December 29, 2017
Location: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.
Line: Northwestern -7.5
Which TV channel is Northwestern-Kentucky on?
ESPN will broadcast the Music City Bowl between Kentucky and Northwestern.
How can I watch Northwestern-Kentucky online?
Fans can watch the Kentucky-Northwestern Music City Bowl online via WatchESPN or on the WatchESPN app.
Northwestern-Kentucky preview, keys to the game
Benny Snell vs. Justin Jackson
Benny Snell and Justin Jackson won’t be lining up against each other, but whichever running back has the bigger game will likely find his team on the winning end.
Snell is on pace to become the best back in Kentucky history while Jackson has cemented his place as the best rusher in Northwestern history. The senior joined former Wisconsin Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne as the second player in Big Ten history to rush for 1,000 yards in four seasons. If the talent of the two heralded running backs is a push, the attention turns to the opposing run defenses.
The purple-clad Wildcats are stingy against the run while the Wildcats of UK have struggled against strong ground attacks.
Northwestern allows an average of 111 rushing yards per game — 10th in the nation. Kentucky ranks 61st in that category, giving up 162 rushing yards per game.
Kentucky relies on the run more than Northwestern. Snell and his offensive line need to roll early for Kentucky to win.
Establish passing threat
This key goes hand-in-hand with the first, especially if Northwestern’s 10th-ranked rushing defense holds true to form.
Stephen Johnson, in what will be his last game in a Kentucky uniform, needs to be accurate through the air to keep Northwestern’s defense from consistently stacking the box. Johnson surpassed 13 completions in a game just once in the second half of the season. He was 8 of 19 for 110 passing yards against Louisville.
The Cats need more through the air. Garrett Johnson and Lynn Bowden can help the quarterback get going with underneath routes while freshman receiver Isaiah Epps will be looking to connect with Johnson on the deep ball that’s been absent from the offense for much of the season.
Overcome the odds
The numbers don’t point toward Kentucky winning this game. Northwestern is an 8-point favorite, and two of the most basic stats weigh heavily in Northwestern’s favorite: total offense and total defense.
Northwestern is 58th in the country in total offense at 405 yards per game. Kentucky is tied for 103rd in total offense with 351 yards per game.
Northwestern ranks 37th nationally in total defense, giving up 359 yards per game. Kentucky is 90th in total defense, giving up 426 yards per game.
Couple those stats with the fact that Northwestern has won seven consecutive games while Kentucky has lost three of its last four.
Northwestern has a 69.8 percent chance to win the game, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.
That sounds right, but those numbers won’t matter when the game kicks off. Kentucky needs to embrace the underdog role and arrive as the more motivated team — a factor that means a lot in bowl games.