Music City Bowl Rapid Recap: No. 21 Northwestern 24, Kentucky 23


Lauren Duquette/Daily Senior Staffer

Justin Jackson unleashes a stiff arm. The senior running back ran for a pair of touchdowns in Northwestern’s Music City Bowl win Friday.

Cole Paxton, Managing Editor


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Somehow, some way, Northwestern won.

The No. 21 Wildcats (10-3, 7-2 Big Ten) survived the loss of their quarterback, top receiver and top linebacker, navigating through a minefield of injuries and controversial calls en route to a heart-stopping 24-23 win over Kentucky (7-6, 4-4 SEC) on Friday in the Music City Bowl.

Senior running back Justin Jackson had a superb day in his final game for NU, racking up 157 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries to propel the offense, which lost junior quarterback Clayton Thorson to a severe right leg injury after he caught a pass on a trick play in the second quarter.

Jackson scored on the next play to put the Cats up 10-7, a lead they would never relinquish. NU likely benefited significantly from the ejection of star Kentucky running back Benny Snell, which left the team with few offensive weapons.

A depleted NU struggled to pull away, missing a field goal and turning the ball over on downs in the red zone, but senior safety Kyle Queiro returned an interception for a touchdown to give the team a 24-14 lead in the fourth quarter. But Kentucky took advantage of a failed fourth-down play on NU’s 39 to score a touchdown with 37 seconds left. The ensuing two-point conversion that would’ve secured the upset failed.


1. It was a war of attrition. The absences went far beyond Thorson and Snell. Johnson left briefly in the first half. NU lost top receiver Ben Skowronek to injury and played without linebacker Nate Hall, injured in practice. Fellow linebacker Paddy Fisher was ejected for targeting, leaving a deep hole at the position and forcing six defensive backs into the game on some plays. The Cats’ offense became nearly one-dimensional with Alviti in the game; the senior had nearly as many rushes (nine) as pass attempts (11). Kentucky, for its part, rushed for just 47 yards after Snell was ejected.

2. The officiating was questionable — at best. Kentucky was most aggrieved by the ejection of Snell, who appeared to make light contact with a referee offering to help him of the ground. The boos from blue-clad fans only cascaded after Johnson was taken down on the sideline by Joe Gaziano on a play that could have warranted a late hit penalty. Later, Fitzgerald said in a halftime radio interview with WGN that Fisher’s ejection was possibly “the worst call I have ever seen in the history of college football.” And that was all in the first half.

3. Still, the Wildcats continued their late-season momentum. Lost in the shuffle was that NU managed to win its eighth straight game. The squad completed a dramatic turnaround from its 2-3 start and tallied eight consecutive victories for the first time since the 1995 season that ended in the Rose Bowl. The bowl triumph gave NU 10 wins for the second time in three years and will likely put the Cats in the top 20 of the national rankings at the end of the year.

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