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Music City Bowl

See all of KSR’s coverage from Kentucky’s 2017 Music City Bowl matchup with Northwestern.

Recap: What We Know About Northwestern So Far

William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

The long-time gap following the Governor’s Cup to the Music City Bowl allows us to present the Northwestern scouting report in small increments. Hopefully this post will allow you to catch up on what we’ve covered up to this point. There’s much, much more to follow on the Purple Wildcats, but next week we’ll focus on December’s National Signing Day.

Let’s take a look back:

Northwestern Tops Kentucky in the Red Zone

Quarterback Clayton Thorson has started over thirty games. The junior quarterback is testing NFL waters for early entry and will present a challenge for the Kentucky pass defense.

Remember that Name: Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald was an All-American linebacker at NU and has two All-Big Ten linebackers at his disposal. Northwestern is ranked ninth in the nation by allowing just 111 rush yards per game.

An Early Look at the Northwestern Defense

But, Northwestern has struggled against the pass and is ranked last in the Big Ten.

Northwestern Pass Defense Similar to Missouri

We’ll continue to update the scouting report after Wednesday’s National Signing Day. For now I’ll leave you with a full-game film so you can see UK’s Music City Bowl opponent in its entirety.


Your guide to the Music City Bowl fan events

Your guide to the Music City Bowl fan events

Coming to Nashville for the Music City Bowl? There will be plenty of events throughout the week leading up to the game, so come down early to party with the BBN. Here’s the schedule of fan events:

Tuesday, December 26

3 – 4 p.m.: Teams arrive at Opryland

Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, 2800 Opryland Drive 

Kentucky rolls into town on Tuesday, so if you’re already in the area, come to Opryland to greet them. Make a day of it by checking out the hotel’s famous Christmas decorations and lights or taking the kids to the ICE attraction. This year’s theme is “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

7 – 10 p.m.: Bowl Welcome Party, Songwriting Contest, and Hot Chicken Eating Contest

Wildhorse Saloon, 120 2nd Avenue North; Invitation only

Once the teams get settled in the hotel, it’s off to downtown for the official welcome party. Five players from each team will participate in a songwriting contest AND a hot chicken eating contest. I nominate Matt Elam. There will also be a round of Coaches Karaoke. Maybe Mark Stoops can get some singing tips from Toby Keith?

Wednesday, December 27

8 – 9 p.m.: Global Force Wrestling Event (Players Party)

Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, 2800 Opryland Drive 

As Drew mentioned last week, the players are invited to a Global Force Wrestling event Wednesday night, although whether or not this event happens is still uncertain because the company may no longer exist. The event is still listed on the Music City Bowl website, so stay tuned.

Thursday, December 28

10:15 – 11:15 a.m.: Coaches press conference

Gaylord Opryland Hotel – Ryman Ballroom, 2800 Opryland Drive

Stoops and Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald will hold a joint press conference at the team hotel Thursday morning.

11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.: Coaches Luncheon

Gaylord Opryland Hotel – Tennessee Ballroom, 2800 Opryland Drive

Fans can purchase tickets to the coaches luncheon, which will feature comments from Stoops and Fitzgerald. The pep band, cheerleaders, and mascot will also be in attendance.

12 – 9 p.m.: Fan Zone opens on Broadway

Broadway will be shut down on Thursday and Friday for a block party, which includes concerts, activities for kids, and a live-fire cooking area featuring some of Nashville’s best chefs. I’m all in on that.

4 p.m.: World Hot Chicken Eating Championships

1st and Broadway

How much hot chicken can you eat in eight minutes?

There’s a Hot Chicken Eating Contest before the Music City Bowl

5 – 8 p.m.: Battle of the Bands featuring Champagne Dynamite

Broadway

If you can only attend one event, make it the Battle of the Bands Thursday night. Kentucky and Northwestern’s bands and cheerleaders will square off on Broadway, playing four or five songs each. Afterwards, a band called Champagne Dynamite will perform (Google tells me they’re a very popular wedding band).

Here’s the event back in 2009:


Friday, December 29

10 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.: Fan Zone opens on Broadway

Grab a mimosa and brace yourself for a busy day.

11:45 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.: Kentucky Pep Rally

Broadway

Cheer the team on as they head to the stadium before the game.

1 – 2:30 p.m.: Pregame Concert featuring Two Story Road

Broadway

Mitch Barnhart said that’s he’s working on a way for UK fans to be able to watch the Louisville game in Nashville, which hopefully means they’ll set up some big TVs in the Fan Zone on Broadway. No offense, Two Story Road, I’m sure you’re a nice band and all, but all Kentucky fans will care about from noon to 2 p.m. on Friday is basketball.

8 – 9:30 p.m.: Postgame Concert featuring Resurrection

Broadway

One way or the other, Broadway will be wild Friday night. The Fan Zone will still be open and Journey tribute band Resurrection takes the stage at 8 p.m.:

Yacht rock lovers rejoice!


The KSR Football Podcast: Signing Day and Music City Bowl Preview

Before things get crazy on the football front over the next two weeks, the KSR Football Podcast has everything you need to be prepared for the chaos.  Drew, Jared, Freddie and Nick preview the matchup between two Wildcats in Nashville before turning to next week’s signing day and the 2018 UK football recruiting class.  Highlights:

—  What caused Drew to break out in tears?

—  Why Freddie believes next season’s starting quarterback will be announced immediately after spring practice.

—  Which freshman has arms as big as Jared’s stomach?

—  Nick is a nerdy jerk.

—  Which UK commit looks like Lamar Thomas on the football field?

—  Is the early signing period a good thing for Kentucky football?

You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play.  Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to “KSR Football Podcast” on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.


Kentucky football receives their Music City Bowl gifts

Christmas came early for UK Football.

The Kentucky Wildcats received their gifts for the Music City Bowl this afternoon, and they’re pretty impressive.

Take a look:

Not too shabby at all…


FINAL HOURS: 25% OFF All Bowl Apparel!

FINAL HOURS: 25% OFF All Bowl Apparel!

The KSR Shop and Kentucky Branded have the perfect way to get you ready to cheer on the ‘Cats in Nashville. Head to ShopKSR.com to receive 25% OFF all Music City Bowl game apparel! The gear is all officially licensed apparel.

These are great holiday gifts for the Kentucky football fan in your life. They will then be all set to cheer on UK in Nashville.

[KSR Shop: 25% OFF All Bowl Apparel!]


Lamar Thomas opens up about Lamar Jackson incident

During the big fight in the Louisville game between Jordan Jones, Lamar Jackson, and the vast majority of the Cardinal offense and Wildcat defense, one of the big storylines that developed was Lamar Thomas’ role as peacemaker.

As players and coaches were splitting players up, Thomas was seen shaking hands and laughing with Jackson, causing Jones to have some not-so-kind words with the Kentucky wide receivers coach.

In today’s media session, Thomas was asked about the altercation and the backlash he has received for not standing up for Jones.

“I’m a sensitive guy,” he said. “Obviously I have a great relationship with Lamar, but I also obviously have a great relationship with these players here. I only want the best for both sides.”

To his credit, Thomas later said he was telling Jackson to cool it and play a clean game, making his best effort to clean up the rivalry game. Tonight, he said he wanted to win that game, but it’s time to move on to bowl prep.

“I want to win the game just as bad as anyone else. It’s unfortunate things like that happen. All I can do now is go out there and prepare for this bowl,” said Thomas.

You can watch the entire interview below:


From last year to this year, how Kentucky is changing their bowl game practices

Last season, Kentucky’s trip to a bowl game was extra special. After six years of bowl-game drought, Kentucky football finally had the chance to participate in post-season play, and boy, everyone was excited. From the players to the fans, Kentucky was hype. Despite the game being played over ten hours away from UK’s campus, thousands of members of the BBN traveled to Jacksonville for the TaxSlayer Bowl.

And the game was nothing short of brutal.

After an incredibly frustrating first half, which included a Georgia Tech scoop-and-score fumble recovery touchdown and a blocked Kentucky punt, the Cats found themselves buried in a 20-3 halftime hole. The second half was an improvement, but it wasn’t enough, and the Yellow Jackets won 33-18.

But this year, the players are determined for it to be different. And that starts with practice.

How are this year’s pre-bowl-game practices different from last year’s? According to Stephen Johnson, it’s been beneficial to practice without so much pressure of it being the “first” bowl game.

It’s a lot more loose,” Johnson said. “I mean, we were working really hard last year, just the anticipation for the first bowl game in a while. So this one, having it a little bit more laid back, letting guys just ease into it a little bit really helps us out.”

Other veterans agree. Sophomore Benny Snell touched on the importance of not over-working the players leading up to the game, something he believes the team is doing better this year compared to last year.

“For last year, it was new – a lot of it was new,” Snell said. “So I felt like in practice or anything else… I felt like last year we overdid it. We worked ourselves a lot; we did a lot. This year, coming into it, Stoops [has been] telling us that things will be a lot shorter, lighter, but we’ll get good reps. So that’s definitely a good thing.”

Snell also mentioned how the “newness” of last year impacted their mentality, while this year they’ll be better equipped to handle the environment and the corresponding adjustments.

“This is our second time going to a bowl game, so we should be able to learn in the environment,” Snell said. “It’s a new environment, and we should be able to adjust for it this time.”

With last year’s newness came so much excitement. Not that being excited about post-season play is a bad thing by any means, but it was easy for some fans to question if certain aspects of the football game itself were overshadowed by the sheer idea of playing in a bowl game.

This year, Landon Young says that will not be an issue.

“This year, we’ve already been there one year and we’re sort of going back,” the sophomore said. “So we have a lot more focused mentality on actually the game instead of just on the experience of the bowl.”

We’ll see how this new practice tactic pays off for Kentucky December 29 at 4:30 p.m. Until then, go Cats.


@MaggieDavisKSR


Three Quick Hits from Eddie Gran’s Press Conference

Following pre-bowl game practice today, some members of the offensive unit spoke with the media. First up, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran. KSR will have more coming your way throughout the night, but here’s a taste of what’s to come: the three most important things Gran said this afternoon.

On the Wildcat:

It’s the one play that’s been highly scrutinized over and over again this season. Fans have questioned its efficiency, while Gran and Mark Stoops have continued to remain loyal. If you’re anti-Wildcat, I’ve got some bad news for you: Gran expects to use it against Northwestern.

“The wildcat has been successful this year against some people, and against some it’s not been so good,” Gran said. “[Northwestern] hasn’t had a lot go against them yet this year so I think you have to for sure dabble in it and go in-and-out and keep people off balance and create new formations… it’s been good for us, so we’re going to continue using it.”

Well, there you go.

On recruiting:

It’s been a crazy time month of Music City preparations, but the coaches have been extra busy because of the new, early signing period that will begin on December 20. When asked how recruiting was going, Gran had a simple answer:

“Awesome. Really really really good.”

When asked about how the new period will affect recruiting, Gran expanded:

“It’s a little bit different this year with the December 20 signing day so, you know, this thing is getting ready to happen here in a couple of weeks. So, you know, this weekend and next weekend are going to be huge. And we’re going to have a great signing class come December the 20. The good part is we’ve got some guys that are on board and are expected to sign on the 20th.”

On next year’s QB:

While Stephen Johnson has been steering the ship this season, we unfortunately only have one more game under his guidance. While he obviously needs to be preparing for the bowl game, these extra 15 practices are also important for next season’s contenders. Namely, Drew Barker and Gunnar Hoak. According to Gran, Barker has been getting more reps in during recent practices.

“You know, Stephen right now is our starting quarterback so you’ve got to continue to get him ready,” Gran said. “But we’ll also have Drew take some of the one-reps as we’re going through these 15 practices – which is a good thing too. So he got some today.”

We’ve only seen glimpses of Barker’s in-game talent this season, and fans are yet to see Hoak in action. Still, in terms of their individual progress, Gran didn’t offer much information.

“We’re not there yet. I don’t think anybody is ever happy. When I say that, you’ve got to strive for perfection with offenses – it’s execution,” Gran said. “It’s just still the consistency part of it for me. The anticipation and throwing on time and those are the things we’ve still got to get better at for us to go to the next step.”


@MaggieDavisKSR


Northwestern Pass Defense Similar to Missouri

Northwestern Pass Defense Similar to Missouri

Finding flaws in the Northwestern defense is not an easy task. However, at times the NU pass defense has shown to be a limitation throughout 2017. Statistically (not structurally and we’ll get to that in a later post) it compares to Missouri. The following chart contains each Northwestern opponent, the opponent’s pass yards vs. the Wildcats, and its foe’s average pass yards per game. It must be noted that the Wildcats faced two foes that are rated near the bottom in passing offense: Minnesota (122nd) and Maryland (116th) and played in three overtime games. Opposing offenses averaged 63.2% through the air in the three games it lost.

Northwestern Pass Defense Results

Opponent Pass Yards vs. NU/Completion % Opponent Pass Yards Average per game
Nevada 199 (43.2%) 270
@Duke 305 (64.4) 210
Bowling Green 256 (61.3%) 235
Wisconsin 197 (55%) 187
Penn State 286 (70.7%) 285
@Maryland 255 (44.7) 161
Iowa 233 (57.5%) 197
Michigan State 445 (68.4%) 215
Nebraska 225 (55.6%) 277
Purdue 398 (62.9%) 239
Minnesota 43 (18%) 126
Illinois 139 (45.1%) 174

 

Pic by The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern Pass Defense

Completion % Yards TD INT Yards per game
57.5% 2971 18 15 247.6

Missouri Pass Defense

Completion % Yards TD INT Yards per game
59.7% 3141 18 12 261.8

 For comparative reasons; let’s see how Kentucky’s pass offense executed vs. the Missouri pass defense.

Passing Stephen Johnson 22/36, 298-yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
Receiving Garrett Johnson 7 receptions, 111-yds, 1 TD

 Northwestern has registered 30 quarterback sacks. That’s two more than Kentucky and one less than Missouri. Its led by a pair of All-Big Ten performers in the secondary: Nickel Kyle Queiro and Safety Godwin Igwebuike. At times; NU has struggled with one-on-one matchups on the outside and with TE’s vs. linebackers. Kentucky must be able to take advantage of the Northwestern pass defense in order to have a chance to win the Music City Bowl.


Inside NU

Northwestern Tops Kentucky in the Red Zone

The Red Zone is a football term that is frequently used by talking heads and on-field analysts. We often utilize statistics from this category in order to construct an opponent’s proficiency profile. Do you know at what point on the football field is considered the redzone? I have to be honest, for years I thought the red zone started at the plus 25-yard line. In fact, the term refers to the area of the football field that stretches from the opponent’s 20-yard line to the end zone.

The Kentucky has excelled and failed in the red zone. Let’s take a look:

Kentucky Red Zone Offense

Eddie Gran’s unit entered the red zone on 39 occasions in which its scored 36 times. Its 92.31% scoring ratio is excellent; good enough for 4th in the SEC and 13th in the nation. BUT, the Wildcats managed just 24 touchdowns from those 39 trips; 61.54%. It kicked 12 field goals; 30.77%.

Summary: Excellent scoring percentage. But, the UK settled for field goals instead of touchdowns on far too many occasions. Matter of fact, its inability to score touchdowns inside the twenty-yard line significantly factored in its win/loss column. Kentucky cannot trade field goals for touchdowns vs. Northwestern in the Music City Bowl.

Kentucky Red Zone Defense

UK’s opponents entered the red zone 43 times and scored in 39 of those trips; 90.70%. Of the opponent’s 39 scores, 26 were touchdowns (70%) and 10 scores were of the field goal variety.

Summary: Surrendering 70% touchdowns ranked 13th in the SEC. This statistic has greatly influenced the win/loss column. Opponents made 43 trips, scored on 39. So, just 4 red zone drives ended with zero points.

Inside NU

Northwestern Red Zone Offense

Northwestern’s 90.74% red zone efficiency offense is ranked 2nd in the Big Ten and 21st in the nation. The Wildcats made 54 trips inside the twenty in which it scored 49 times. Of the 49 scores; 39 were touchdowns (72.22%). 10 drives finished with field goal conversions (18.52%).

Summary: 72.22% of all redzone trips end with Wildcat touchdowns. Highly efficient.

 

Northwestern Red Zone Defense

Opponents made 38 trips to the red zone in which they scored on 27 occurrences or 71.05% of the time. That percentage ranks the Wildcats 1st in the Big Ten and 7th in the nation. Of those 38 red zone trips; 20 resulted in touchdowns. Opponents are scoring touchdowns on just 52.63% of all red zone opportunities. 7 of the 38 attempts finished with made field goals; 18.4%. Thus, 11 of 38 drives resulted with zero points.

What does all this mean?

Northwestern is one of the best Red Zone teams in all of college football. In my opinion; this stat column combines “want to” with discipline and efficiency. Those terms adequately describe UK’s opponent in the Music City Bowl.


The Depth Chart Podcast: Music City Bowl Bound

The Depth Chart Podcast can’t wait to go to the Music City Bowl.  That’s right, Freddie Maggard will be in Nashville to watch Kentucky take on Northwestern.  If Freddie can muscle up and go to his least-favorite city, you can make the postseason trip to the Music City.

The podcast wasn’t all about the bowl game.  The crew also talked about…

—  A Salute to those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor.

—  Unfair comparisons between Mark Stoops and Rich Brooks.

—  How bad was UK’s defense behind the line of scrimmage?

—  The gang gets a few things off their chest.

—  What does next year’s quarterback situation look like?

—  Freddie’s experience at Kroger Field for the KHSAA State Finals.

You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play.  Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to “Kentucky Sports Radio” on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.


The Best Bowl Gifts of the 2017-18 season

The Best Bowl Gifts of the 2017-18 season

Half of the fun of bowl season is breaking down the gifts that each bowl gives to the teams that participate. Last year, Kentucky players each got a bobblehead of themselves from the TaxSlayer Bowl, a cool and unique souvenir they’ll have on their desks or nightstands for years to come; what gift awaits them in Nashville at the Music City Bowl?

According to Sports Business Daily, a Fossil watch and a trip to the bowl’s gift suite.

Oh. Well, to be fair, that gift suite could include a lot of cool stuff (per NCAA rules, up to $550 worth of cool stuff per person). According to KnoxNews.com, last year’s Music City Bowl gift suite featured 70 items, including flat-screen TVs, mountain bikes, recliners, watches, electronics, headphones, and apparel. Schools can also add up to $400 for each player, meaning that the Cats could have up to $950 to spend in the gift suite.

That’s enough to make you forget about the Fossil watch, which might make for a nice Christmas gift for Dad, but it’s hardly as cool as a personalized bobblehead or some of the swag other bowls are handing out. Such as…

 

Cactus Bowl (Kansas State vs. UCLA): Yeti cooler and tumbler; Fossil watch; Ogio backpack; Legendary hat; JBL Flip 4 speaker; blanket

Shoutout to the Cactus Bowl for going all out. As anybody with a Yeti cooler will tell you, they’re not cheap, so to pair that with a Yeti tumbler (also not cheap), a backpack, a hat, a really nice bluetooth speaker, and a blanket? That’s all you need for a fun day at the beach or park. And, of yeah, the requisite Fossil watch (14 bowls are handing those out this year).


Quick Lane Bowl (Duke vs. Northern Illinois): $175 Best Buy gift card; JBL bluetooth headphones; life-sized Fathead decal for each participant of his likeness; Ogio backpack and tag; mini helmet; hoodie; workout shorts; winter hat; vintage football

The Quick Lane Bowl compensates being located in Detroit with an amazing gift set. Not only will players get a $175 gift card to Best Buy, nice bluetooth headphones and other swag, they’ll get a life-sized Fathead of themselves. That is awesome. Can you imagine Stephen Johnson’s?

That could be worth going to Detroit for.


Citrus Bowl (Notre Dame vs. LSU) & Camping World Bowl (Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma State): $400 Best Buy player shopping trip; Timely Watch Co. watch

You can get a 43″ Samsung LED 4K Ultra HD TV for $379 at Best Buy right now. No gift will get more use than that.


PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (Washington vs. Penn State): PlayStation PS4 PRO bundle; Fossil watch; Ogio backpack

See above. College boy’s dream right there.


Alamo Bowl (Stanford vs. TCU): Amazon Echo Show; $175 Amazon gift card; Fossil watch; mini-helmet; Rock ‘Em socks; team panoramic photo

I doubt anybody under the age of 45 is going to use an Amazon Echo Show (why when you have a phone?), but it would make a nice gift for parents or grandparents. Plus, $175 will get you plenty on Amazon.


Peach Bowl (Auburn vs. UCF): $300 Vanilla Visa gift card by InComm; Ultimate Ears Wonderboom bluetooth speaker; Fossil watch; football

Money, money, money. MONEY!

…oh, and a Fossil watch.


Bahamas Bowl (UAB vs. Ohio): Gift suite; iSlides sandals; drawstring backpack; beach towel; bowl pin

Also, being in the Bahamas.


Outback Bowl (Michigan vs. South Carolina): Jostens ring; Fossil watch; $125 Best Buy gift card; Outback Steakhouse gift card; hat

You had me at “Outback Steakhouse gift card.”


Gildan New Mexico Bowl (Marshall vs. Colorado State): Gift suite; Oakley sunglasses; Oakley 5-Speed backpack; Lit tumbler; beanie; Gildan stadium blanket; cap; Fidget Spinner

To be fair, the fidget spinner will be the most used gift on that list.


Belk Bowl (Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M): Shopping trip to Belk department store; Fossil watch

Somewhere, Jim McElwain is really jealous.


AutoZone Liberty Bowl (Iowa State vs. Memphis): Bass Pro Shops shopping trip; Bulova Caravelle watch; Nike athletic shoes, sport sandals and backpack; football

Somewhere, Kash Daniel is really jealous.

 

For a complete list of the bowl gifts this year, check out SportsBusinessDaily.com.


Northwestern’s strength coach is the most intense person ever

Northwestern’s strength coach is the most intense person ever

If Northwestern’s players are even half as intense as their strength coach, Kentucky is doomed in the Music City Bowl.

Alex Spanos, the Wildcats’ strength coach, became an internet star last month after videos of him pumping up the team on the sidelines in an extra tight polo shirt went viral. Words cannot do Spanos justice; he is a spectacular ball of energy that must be seen to be believed.

A few weeks ago, the Chicago Tribune profiled Spanos, who claims he wears a large polo, not a “smedium” as the internet speculates. He was a linebacker at Robert Morris and now, works 80-hour weeks at Northwestern, waking up each day at 4:30 a.m. to “slam” protein shakes and get to the gym. His typical breakfast includes 40 grams of protein from six whole eggs, Greek yogurt, bacon, sausage, cheese, and vegetables. My goodness.

And yes, he does get cold wearing a polo with cutoff sleeves in frosty Chicago, but he says he does it on purpose so he’s “always on his toes.” (Also, those guns aren’t going to show off themselves.)

No wonder Northwestern had such a good season. How could you not be hyped with this guy around?

BEAT MSU #strengthtraining #football #ncaafootball #northwesternfootball #gameday #win

A post shared by Alex Spanos (@turbostrengthnu) on

I mean…

Sometimes he just gets so hyped he has to stop what he’s doing and do some pull-ups:

Spanos’ awesomeness extends to his social media accounts. The son of Greek immigrants, he refers to himself as a “Kalamata Olive”:

Appropriately, ALL OF HIS PICTURE CAPTIONS ARE IN ALL CAPS:

COOKING TURTLE SOUP TODAY

A post shared by Alex Spanos (@turbostrengthnu) on

THESE HUSKERS OF CORN DON’T STAND A CHANCE AGAINST THESE CATS

A post shared by Alex Spanos (@turbostrengthnu) on

HUMP DAY BABY GET JACKED. GOT SOME LITTLE KITTY CAT NITTANY LIONS COMING IN 3 DAYS!

A post shared by Alex Spanos (@turbostrengthnu) on

We could all learn something from Spanos. Talk about someone who lives every moment of life to the fullest.

CATS WIN BABY

A post shared by Alex Spanos (@turbostrengthnu) on

Mitch Barnhart, open the checkbook and give this guy everything he wants.


An Early Look at the Northwestern Defense

David Banks | Getty Images

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald is a defensive guy. He played linebacker for the Wildcats and did so at a very high level. A consensus college All American; Fitzgerald’s fierce, on-field coaching personality and cerebral approach to the game of football is mimicked by his defensive scheme and personnel.

As you can see below; Northwestern held six of its twelve regular season opponents to less than 100-rush yards. More impressive; the Wildcats limited perennial run-powers Iowa to 89 and Wisconsin to 109-yards on the ground. This defensive strength should present a major concern for the Big Blue Nation given Kentucky’s propensity to rely heavily upon first team All SEC RB Benny Snell and its ground attack.

This chart highlights Northwestern’s opponents, points allowed, and total yards divided by the run and pass. Let’s take a look:

2017 Defensive Schedule Results  

Opponent Points Allowed Yards Allowed Rush/Pass
Nevada 20 341; 142-rush, 199-pass
@Duke 41 495; 233rush, 305-pass
Bowling Green 7 352; 96/256
@Wisconsin 33 306; 109/197
Penn State 31 381; 95/286
@Maryland 21 340; 85/255
Iowa 10 312; 89/223
Michigan State 31 540; 95/445
@Nebraska 24 337; 112/225
Purdue 13 438; 40/398
Minnesota 0 182; 139/43
@Illinois 7 239; 100/139

As our first Northwestern post that concentrated on its offense referenced; the Wildcats average 23.1 first downs per game. That’s more than three of the Football Playoff teams: Clemson, Alabama, and Georgia. This stat-line is an indication of the Wildcat’s ability to possess and maintain the football through long, extended drives. It’s also ran more offensive plays on the season than any other UK opponent including Missouri, Louisville, and Ole Miss. It must be factored that Northwestern played three overtime games in 2017.

Defensive numbers paint a picture of a run-stout, 4-3 team that’s comprised of efficient tacklers that are excellent at impeding opponents from establishing the run. Add in its inconceivable defensive red-zone efficiency, and you get a typical Pat Fitzgerald hard-nosed, no-nonsense defense. Let’s take a look at how Northwestern’s defense stacked up Big Ten competition: 

2017 Big 10 Statistical Rankings 

Category Results Big-10 Rank
Scoring 19.8 5th
Rush 111.25 4th
Pass 247.6 14th
Total 358.9 9th
QB Sacks 30 6th
Tackles for Loss 88 3rd
3rd Down 37.50% 9th
Red-Zone 71.5% (52% TD) 1st, 7th nationally
Interceptions 15 3rd
Long Scrimmage Plays Allowed 9th Allowed 161 plays of 10+yards

 

Top Performers 

Category Name Result
Tackles LB Paddy Fisher 110 tackles, Big Ten-4th
Tackles for Loss LB Nate Hall 16.5, Big Ten-2nd
QB Sacks DE Joe Gaziano 8 (Big Ten-1st)
Interceptions N Kyle Queiro 4

Northwestern executes a 4-man front which means it features two defensive tackles and two defensive ends. All four defensive linemen align in a three-point stance or with their hand in the dirt/turf. The defensive front is led by All-Big Ten defensive lineman Joe Gaziano. The sophomore leads the league with 8 quarterback sacks.

Its linebackers are yet another reflection of their head coach. Freshman LB Paddy Fisher’s 110 total tackles ranked 4th in the conference. He was named All-Big Ten as well as the league’s freshman defensive most valuable player. He’s joined by LB Nate Hall. The veteran racked up 16.5 tackles for loss which was good enough for 2nd in the conference. Combined; Hall and Fisher are a formidable duo that ranks in the top 3 of inside linebackers that Kentucky has faced in 2017. Both are excellent football players.

The secondary is controlled by a pair of All-Big Ten performers: Nickel Kyle Queiro and Safety Godwin Igwebuike. However, Northwestern ranks 14th or last in its conference by allowing 247.6 pass-yards per game. Notably; Michigan State threw for 445-yards in an overtime loss to the Wildcats and Jeff Brohm’s Purdue Boilermakers tossed it around for 398. It has been vulnerable to long pass plays especially against taller receivers.

Joe Gaziano via Chicago Tribune

Kentucky has faced more athletic defenses than Northwestern. However, I’m not certain its faced a better coached or disciplined collection of defenders. Expect to see the Wildcat D play with extreme effort as it takes tremendous pride in swarming to the football and team tackling. Northwestern will be focused on stopping or slowing RB Benny Snell. This means that UK must find balance and a passing game if it intends on competing for the Music City trophy.

Kentucky’s offensive possessions will be limited. It must improve its red-zone touchdown efficiency and 3rd down conversion ratio. I find it difficult to compare Northwestern to a defensive opponent that UK has faced in 2017. However, UK has been productive when facing 4-man fronts. It faced mostly 3-4 defenses in conference play.

Much, much more to come on the Northwestern defense. Summary; it’s great vs. the run. Not so good vs. the pass but extremely well coached and disciplined.


TRANSCRIPT: Mark Stoops previews the Music City Bowl

Opening Statement …

“Excited about the opportunity to play in the Music City Bowl and honored to play Northwestern. I have great respect for Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern. They play some very good football, obviously, as a nine-win football team. It’s a challenge but we’re honored to be a part of it. We look forward to wrapping up recruiting, getting back on campus and working out our players and getting started on these bowl preparations. It’s an exciting time and a busy time.”

On whether he learned anything about bowl preparation last year and any changes this year…

“Yeah, I think so. You always learn and you’re trying to get as much information as I can from the simple things like when you arrive, what you do, how many practices you have before. Last year we used the bowl to really push the program and basically use it as a second spring practice. There were obviously benefits to that but there is a balance in what you do, how hard you practice, how many practices you have, all those things.”

On if he’ll talk to some of the players about their thoughts on bowl preparations…

“Without a doubt. Matter of fact, I’m getting together with some of the guys today, our Unity Council, to talk about it.”

On how the new recruiting deadline (Dec. 20) affects things…

“It won’t change the bowl prep much but it makes for very busy weekends. With coaches on the road we didn’t have a recruiting weekend last weekend but we will the next two. Trying to balance practices with that and players taking their finals, you really can’t have practices that week. We’ll have to have practices on the weekends and then straight through (after it) until we cut them loose for Christmas. It’ll be busy. Our coaches have done a great job and hit the pavement very hard and we’re very, very encouraged with what is going on in recruiting. Very, very positive response from (recruits). It’s been an exciting time for us.”

On Northwestern…

“You’ve got to have a lot of respect for (head coach) Pat (Fitzgerald), what he’s done and how they play. They’ve won seven in a row and three of them were very close games so a play here or there, you have to give them credit for finding a way to win football games. They’re very well coached.”

On preparing for a more traditional offense in this year’s bowl game…

“That is important because that was unique for us (last year) to prepare for that (Georgia Tech’s option-centric offense). We couldn’t even do ‘good against good’ with our offense (last year). It helps with the development of the young guys. We don’t crossover much with (Northwestern) but I’ve had a chance to peek on them a few times when they were playing and we were waiting in the hotel. Having some familiarity with Big Ten teams, you know they’re very well balanced and have a good run defense. It doesn’t surprise me for a team coached by Pat and his crew.”

On relationship with Pat Fitzgerald…

“We know each other from the business. I’ve talked to him via text since we were matched up.”

On balancing getting QB Stephen Johnson ready for the bowl while also looking ahead to next season’s QB situation…

“That’s important to get (the backups) some reps. They’ve done that all year in preparing (for regular-season games) but it will be important to get them some reps.”

On whether he wants bowl practices to be more physical…

“We have to continue to develop as a program and there are some areas we didn’t do as well in down the stretch, particularly the last two games. We’ve got a lot of work to do. I think it’s been important to give our guys a little time away to decompress a little bit. They’ve been working hard in the weight room. We’re anxious to get back with them.”

On SEC coaching changes…

“It’s been a crazy year. I appreciate where I’m at and the stability we have in this program. Look at Pat with Northwestern, he’s been there 12 years already. It’s remarkable. It’s good for him and it’s nice to see that stability. In our league, in general, there is a lot of turnover and there a lot of my close friends who won’t be in those (SEC) meetings this year, some very good football coaches.”

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