Music City Bowl Recap: UK falls to Northwestern; Snell ejected

01 January, 2018, 04:34 | Author: Myrtle Cook
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So how does Kentucky stop Northwestern? Stephen Johnson was banged up and Kentucky had played three-quarters of the game without star running back Benny Snell Jr., who was ejected in the first half.

Stephen Johnson led United Kingdom on a drive that ended when he carried it 9 yards into the end zone for the touchdown. Thorson completed 4 of 8 passes for 35 yards before departing. Warren Long sacked Johnson on 2-and-4, but a pass interference on third down set up 1-and-goal from the United Kingdom nine-yard line, and Johnson sprinted for the right pylon to score and pull the Wildcats to within one point.

Down 24-23, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, showing some aggressiveness of his own, went for the winning two-point conversion instead of tying things up with an extra point. Unfortunately for Stoops, Johnson's two-point pass fell incomplete, and Northwestern recovered the ensuing onside kick to seal the victory.

That's Kentucky running back Benny Snell contacting a ref (right as the ref was also contacting him, mind you). Several Kentucky players also approached to offer encouragement and shoulder taps.

Snell put United Kingdom on the board first when he capped off a five-play, 67-yard opening drive with a three-yard run.

Snell lost seven yards on a first down play from the Northwestern 37-yard line. That 26-yard pick-6 gave NU a 24-14 lead. He added two touchdowns and 17 yards on the ground. Stephen Johnson hit Tavin Richardson on two huge play-action passes. Johnson's Kentucky career ended with him connecting on 19 of his 36 pass attempts for 257 yards and two interceptions with the two rushing scores. However, UK shut it down from there as Northwestern settles for a 33 yard field goal from Charlie Kubander. He is one of only two Big Ten players along with Wisconsin great Ron Dayne to run for at least 1,000 in four straight seasons.

Kentucky roared back on the first drive of the second half. On the drive, Sihiem King rushed for 12 yards.

"Early in the year we'd be in practice and I'd tell Justin, 'You'd better get a lot of yards, (Larkin's) coming for you, '" Fitzgerald said. He ran for 224 yards and three touchdowns in last year's bowl win and already has over 5,000 rushing yards.

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Kentucky, meanwhile, is 61st nationally in rush defense (162.2 yards). He finished his career with 27 100-yard games.

A few seconds before the half, Northwestern's leading tackler, Paddy Fisher, was ejected for targeting.

Kentucky's defense proved especially vulnerable against the run as the regular season wore on, which could lead to trouble in the postseason.

It would be during the drive that culminated with Jackson's first rushing touchdown that Northwestern would lose starting quarterback Clayton Thorson, who suffered a serious right knee injury after catching a pass from running back Jeremy Larkin on the second play of the quarter. Though not completely surprising, hearing the school's all-time winningest QB would be back in Evanston next season was good news for Northwestern.

Kentucky doesn't have much of a résumé: 7-5 without a win over a ranked team, and blowout losses to Mississippi State, Georgia and Louisville.

Despite all that production, NU opted for another trick play on fourth-and-1 from the Kentucky 2 in the fourth quarter.

Quarterback Clayton Thorson has made it hard for opposing defenses to load the box in an effort to stop Jackson by completing 258 of 426 passes for 2,809 yards and 15 TDs. Thorson was carted off the field and did not return to the game.

If I told you four months ago that the 2017 United Kingdom football team would finish 7-6, you would probably be disappointed.

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