Northwestern held on to take down Kentucky in a wild Music City Bowl Here are five things that matter.
2017 Music City Bowl: Northwestern 24, Kentucky 23
5. The Clayton Thorson disaster
A mid-level NFL prospect, the Northwestern quarterback announced he was coming back for his senior year, and this was supposed to be his moment to carry the team into 2018 – and show why there’s a growing buzz about him.
He completed 4-of-8 passes for 35 yards, but the game was just getting going, he caught a 24-yard pass, and he suffered a bad knee injury. Carted off the field, that was it for the game, and that might be it for a long offseason rehab.
Matt Alviti stepped in and completed just 4-of-11 passes for 50 yards, and ran for 54 – the NU Wildcats got by without their star. But that wasn’t the only negative thing the game will be known for …
4. The Benny Snell fiasco
The Kentucky running back only ran six times for 15 yards and a score, but he’s the key to the offense. And then this happened.
More will come out after the fact, and he was sure to have said something – at least that’s the theory – but to get ejected for not letting the official help him up? It looked bad on several levels, but this will be forever known as the Benny Snell game. It looked like the official overreacted in the heat of the moment – no matter what was said.
3. Justin Jackson
With Thorson out, Northwestern RB Justin Jackson took over, running 32 times for 157 yards and two scores, and caught a pass. He might not be all that big, and he always flew under the radar in terms of national attention, but he’s been one of the best backs in college football over the last several years.
Four straight 1,000-yard season, and he carried the team to a bowl win. That’s how you close out a special career.
2. The interesting play calls
It’s a bowl game, so yeah, it’s when you go all out and go a little bolder and stronger on your play calls.
But for Northwestern to go for it on 4th-and-1 on its own side of the field when up seven late in the game … it makes sense if it works.
But if you believe in your defense, you punt it – punter Hunter Niswander was having a heck of a game – and force Kentucky to go a long field to tie it up.
QB Matt Alviti was stopped short, Kentucky used the short field to score on a scramble by QB Stephen Johnson, and then survived by the skin of a few fingertips when UK misfired on the two-point conversion try to win it.
Kentucky had its quarterback, and Alviti was struggling. Push it to overtime, and take the chance that Johnson would’ve made the plays Alviti couldn’t.
But now. Head coach Mark Stoops went for it, and now …
1. Northwestern won another bowl game
Remember, Northwestern went from the 1949 Rose Bowl to the 2013 Gator without winning a bowl game. And now, under Pat Fitzgerald, it has won three of its last four.
The Wildcats closed out the season with eight straight wins. After starting out 2-3, they won close came after close game, and they made the final defensive stop they needed to have to pull out the bowl victory.
Pat Fitzgerald keeps on winning. He might not have the Big Ten championship he keeps shooting for and believing Northwestern can get, but it’s been a whole lot of fun over the last few years for the program along the way.