Mark Story

Blue Preview: Your guide to UK football’s Music City Bowl game with Northwestern

Kentucky star running back Benny Snell, No. 26, ran for 777 yards and 12 touchdowns in UK’s final five games. In the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Snell will face a Northwestern rush defense that allowed only 111.3 yards a game.
Kentucky star running back Benny Snell, No. 26, ran for 777 yards and 12 touchdowns in UK’s final five games. In the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Snell will face a Northwestern rush defense that allowed only 111.3 yards a game. aslitz@herald-leader.com

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Kentucky vs. No. 20 Northwestern

When: 4:30 p.m. (EST), Friday

Where: Nissan Stadium, Nashville

TV: ESPN (play-by-play Taylor Zarzour, analysis Andre Ware, sideline Olivia Harlan)

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1 (UK Radio Network), WLXG-AM 1300 (ESPN national broadcast), XM Channels 80 and 84, Sirius Channels 80 and 84

Records: Kentucky 7-5 (4-4 SEC), No. 20 Northwestern 9-3 (7-2 Big Ten)

Series: Northwestern leads 1-0

Last meeting: Northwestern won 7-0 in Evanston, Ill., on Oct. 20, 1928

Favorite: Northwestern is favored by 7.5 points

The story line

Coming off a dismal 44-17 loss to archrival Louisville in which some Kentucky players lost their composure and comported themselves in a less than classy manner, Mark Stoops and the Wildcats seek to end their season on a more positive note by earning UK’s first bowl victory since Rich Brooks’ 2008 Cats won the Liberty Bowl.

The big threat

Northwestern’s run defense. By the end of the season, Kentucky’s offense was heavily reliant on star sophomore running back Benny Snell. After being stifled for 18 yards on seven carries in UK’s loss at Mississippi State, Snell ran for 777 yards and 12 touchdowns over Kentucky’s final five games. However, Northwestern’s defensive strength is stopping the run. The purple Wildcats finished the regular season ninth in the country in rush defense, allowing only 111.3 yards a game. If Northwestern can contain Snell, will UK have an offensive counter?

Illinois St Northwestern Football
Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald, center, has led the purple Wildcats (9-3) to seven-straight victories entering their Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl meeting with Kentucky (7-5). Matt Marton Associated Press

On the spot

Mark Stoops and the Kentucky defense. The Wildcats failed to force even one punt while surrendering 562 yards and 44 points against Louisville. It was the UK defense that had the player comportment issues, too. With a head coach whose reputation as a defensive strategist helped him land the Kentucky head coaching position, it was not a good look. If the UK defense does not play as if it has a major point to prove against Northwestern it will be a worrisome sign in the extreme.

The mood

Was beyond sour after Kentucky ended its season in such an unappealing manner against U of L. Ultimately, how UK fares against Northwestern will determine how the Cats’ 2017 season is viewed. Should Kentucky fall, the season ends on losing skids of three straight and five of seven. If Kentucky wins, however, it will be UK’s first eight-win season since 2007 and only its third since 1984. That would represent a tangible step forward for Mark Stoops in his fifth season as Kentucky head coach.

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