Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Kentucky vs. No. 20 Northwestern
When: 4:30 p.m. (EST), Friday
Where: Nissan Stadium, Nashville
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?
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.
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.