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Kentucky vs. Northwestern Music City Bowl 2017 preview

Kentucky seeks to end their schneid. Northwestern, meanwhile, looks to keep momentum going.

NCAA Football: Eastern Michigan at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

2017 MUSIC CITY BOWL PREVIEW

TALE OF THE TAPE

9-3 (7-2 Big Ten, 9-3 ATS) Records 7-5 (4-4 SEC, 3-9 ATS)
#21 CFB Playoff, #20 AP
#20 USA TODAY, #43 S&P+
Rankings #94 S&P+
29.7 (Off.) | 19.8 (Def.) Points Per Game 25.8 (Off.) | 28.6 (Def.)
405.2 (Off.) | 358.8 (Def.) Yards Per Game 350.8 (Off.) | 425.7 (Def.)
Justin Jackson (1,154 Yds) Leading Rusher Benny Snell, Jr. (1,318 Yds)
Clayton Thorson (2,809 Yds) Leading Passer Stephen Johnson (2,048 Yds)
Joe Gaziano (8) Leading Sacker Josh Allen (7)
30.6 (Off.) | 30.0 (Def.) Average Field Position 30.5 (Off.) | 28.1 (Def.)
41.8% (Off.) | 36.4% (Def.) Rushing Success Rate 43.0% (Off.) | 47.6% (Def.)
42.5% (Off.) | 40.5% (Def.) Passing Success Rate 42.5% (Off.) | 45.9% (Def.)
42.2% (Off.) | 38.7% (Def.) Success Rate 42.8% (Off.) | 46.7% (Def.)

HOW WE GOT HERE

The Kentucky Wildcats and Northwestern Wildcats took paths to Nashville that were complete opposites of each other.

As you well know by now, the Wildcats in blue and white started the year off hot. The ‘Cats were 3-0 after their first SEC game, 4-1 at the end of September and 5-1 after October 7. Following a loss to Mississippi State, the Wildcats bounced back with a 29-26 win over Tennessee. By October 28, they were bowl eligible, and had bigger things in grasp.

However, a rough month of November set them back quite a bit. The Wildcats lost to Ole Miss, Georgia and rival Louisville. This slide, combined with a win over Vanderbilt, led to a 7-5 record. The spiral definitely plagued what could’ve been a huge year in Lexington. Alas, here we are.

Northwestern, on the other hand, took a different route to Nashville. After going 2-1 against Nevada, Duke and Bowling Green, the Wildcats dropped two in a row to Penn State and Wisconsin. There’s no shame in losing to two New Year’s Six participants, but falling to 2-3 definitely put Northwestern in a hole.

How did NU respond? Oh, y’know. They only won seven in a row to finish the season at 9-3. Including a victory against Michigan State as well as two dubs over Iowa and Purdue.

They’ve allowed just 15.1 points per game in this win streak, including four contests where they allowed 13 or less, featuring a shutout of Minnesota. On offense, they’ve averaged 32.6 points per game in this run, including five efforts of 31+ and four of 37+, including a 42-point showing against Illinois.


WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Benny Snell vs. Northwestern’s Run D

NU’s rushing defense ranks as one of the best in the country. From a strictly raw perspective, they’ve only allowed 1,335 yards on the ground, which averages to merely 111.3 yards per game. Teams have run on Northwestern just 408 times, meaning they’re allowing only 3.3 yards per carry.

Advanced metrics favor Northwestern’s run D as well. Their Rushing S&P+ mark ranks 20th in the country. They’re limiting explosive plays, with an IsoPPP of 0.80, also ranking 20th in the nation. Their Rushing Success Rate of 36.4 percent is 21st-best in among all FBS teams. In essence, they are getting it done.

They’ll certainly be tested by the mettle of Benny Snell, Jr. Snell was outstanding as a sophomore, rushing for over 1,000 yards yet again. He was second in the SEC in rushing yards (1,318) and led the conference in rushing TDs (18). Snell was bottled up by the Georgia Bulldogs two games ago, but still managed to nearly crack 100 yards and wound up with a rushing score. He will certainly be facing one of his biggest tests this season, and this one could decide the game.


PREDICTION

Northwestern 28, Kentucky 17