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Justin Jackson powers No. 21 Northwestern past Kentucky in Music City Bowl

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It was a game marred by penalties, ejections and injuries, but No. 21 Northwestern (10-3) sifted through all of the hurdles to capture a 24-23 victory against Kentucky (7-6) to win the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on Friday evening. Running back Justin Jackson finished off a brilliant college career by rushing for 148 yards and two touchdowns to put Northwestern on his back for the win.

Northwestern needed Jackson to carry the load after quarterback Clayton Thorson was lost to a serious-looking leg injury in the first half. Thorson was replaced by Matt Alviti after being carted off the field in the second quarter. Jackson was not alone in pounding out yardage on the ground. Jeremy Larkin got involved in a big way with 112 yards. As much as the Northwestern running game carried the way to victory, it was a big play by the defense that seemingly would help lift Northwestern to a win. Kyle Queiro‘s 26-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter gave Northwestern a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. It was the second interception of the game thrown by Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson.

Northwestern gave Kentucky a chance to come back, however. After Kentucky kicked a field goal to create a seven-point deficit, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald made the incredibly bold decision to go for a first down on a 4th-and-1 on his own 39-yard line. After an instant replay upheld the fourth down stop, Kentucky went to work to try and get in the end zone. A pass interference penalty on a 3rd-and-6 by Northwestern gave Kentucky the ball at the nine-yard line, and Johnson ran it in for a score.

Rather than go for a tie in the final minute of the game, Kentucky opted to go for a two-point conversion, but the pass attempt by Johnson fell incomplete. Northwestern then recovered the kickoff to run out the clock.

Northwestern has now won bowl games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. It is also the second time in three years Northwestern has hit 10 wins, and the third time under Fitzgerald. With the win, the Big Ten improves to 4-0 this bowl season, while the SEC drops to 0-3 out of the gates. Kentucky has not won a bowl game since 2008.

Northwestern will open the 2018 season with a conference game against Purdue on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. The Wildcats have a tough draw in cross-division play with Michigan and a road game at Michigan State in back-to-back weeks followed by a home game against Nebraska. Northwestern also hosts Notre Dame next November Kentucky begins the 2018 season at home on Sep. 1, 2018 against Central Michigan before a Week 2 road trip to Florida in SEC play.

Injuries, ejections and penalties the story of the first half of Music City Bowl

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Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson was taken off the field for further medical examination after appearing to injure his right leg on a trick play. Not long after that, an official tossed Kentucky running back Benny Snell Jr. from the game after making contact with an official. It’s been quite a first half in the Music City Bowl, where Northwestern leads Kentucky by a score of 17-7 at the half.

After Thorson hauled in a pass from Jeremy Larkin, Thorson appeared to injure his right leg before contact was made by the nearby Kentucky defender. The 23-yard gain was the result of a brilliant play call from the Northwestern sideline, but the loss of starting quarterback put the game on pause for a few moments before play resumed after Thorson was carted off.

Justin Jackson scored a touchdown on a five-yard run shortly after the Thorson injury. The run gave Northwestern a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter. Earlier in the drive, Jackson became the 10th all-time leading rusher in college football history, passing Damion Fletcher of Southern Miss and Anthony Thompson of Indiana to move to No. 10 among FBS players. Jackson would add a second touchdown later in the second quarter to extend the Northwestern lead to 17-7. Matt Alviti came in to play quarterback for the Northwestern Wildcats.

On the ensuing possession, Kentucky’s top running back was ejected from the game after making contact with an official. The call, however, has left many wondering if the ref went a tad overboard with his decision. You decide for yourself if Snell should have been ejected for this?

The ref show once again popped up late in the second half when Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops and the Kentucky sideline appeared to want a late hit out of bounds call against Northwestern when quarterback Stephen Johnson was taken down on the sideline. No flag was called, until a ref decided to throw one on the Kentucky sideline for unsportsmanlike conduct. Johnson was taken off the field for possible medical attention, and he was seen jawing at a ref on his way off the field.

The officials didn’t just have all of their controversial calls on the Kentucky side. Northwestern linebacker Paddy Fisher was tossed from the game late in the first half for targeting, although it was one of many very questionable targeting calls we have seen in college football. It has not been a great day for this officiating crew, to say the least.

As the Music City Bowl goes to the second half, it is still up for grabs between the Wildcats of the Big Ten and SEC, if there are enough players to actually finish this game. Kentucky is looking for their first bowl victory since 2008. Northwestern is looking for back-to-back bowl wins

CFT Previews: Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

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WHO: No. 21 Northwestern (9-3) vs. Kentucky (7-5)
WHAT: The 20th Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
WHEN: 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee
THE SKINNY: It was not all that long ago the thought of Northwestern being able to win a bowl game seemed like an impossible feat, but the times have changed. This year, the Wildcats are going for their second-straight bowl victory in as many years for the first time in school history. In order to get it, they will have to fend off the Wildcats of the SEC from Kentucky in the Music City Bowl, where the Wildcats figure to have a bit of an advantage in the crowd.

Kentucky slides into the bowl season with more than enough wins to be here, but they do so having lost two straight games by a combined score of 86-30 against division foe Georgia and in-state rival Louisville. Defensively, Kentucky was overmatched by the eventual SEC champions and playoff participant and a Louisville team and Heisman finalist Lamar Jackson out for revenge from last season. So how much can Mark Stoops regroup Kentucky to prepare for what could be a decent battle with Northwestern?

For Kentucky, converting inside the red zone will be essential. Kentucky has left too many points on the field by having to settle for field goal attempts this season once getting inside the 20-yard line. In 39 red zone trips, Kentucky has scored just 24 touchdowns and had to kick 12 field goals. Northwestern has been much more successful in the red zone with 39 red zone touchdowns (in 54 trips), with 10 field goals.

Kentucky’s offense will be fueled by running back Benny Snell, who has rushed for 1,318 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. Stephen Johnson has done well in avoiding making too many costly mistakes, and he’ll have to do that again against a feisty Northwestern defense.

This will also be a chance for Northwestern running back Justin Jackson to shine in one final game for the Wildcats. One of the top running backs in the Big Ten a year ago, Jackson got lost in the shuffle of talented running backs in the conference this season, but still rushed for 1,154 yards and nine touchdowns. Expect him to be a factor against the 61st-ranked run defense of Kentucky.

THE PICK: Northwestern 30, Kentucky 26

Northwestern putting Wisconsin on upset alert with halftime lead

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Defense has been the story of the game so far as Northwestern is putting Wisconsin on upset alert at halftime. Cameron Green caught a short touchdown pass from Clayton Thorson to cap a 12-play scoring drive to take a 10-7 lead on the Badgers in Madison.

Wisconsin avoided a disaster right out of the gates thanks to the defense. After Alex Hornibrook completed a pass to Jazz Peavy for a loss of a yard, Peavy fumbled the football away to Northwestern to set the Wildcats right at the Wisconsin 24-yard line just seconds into the game. The Badgers stuffed a 3rd and 1 run by Justin Jackson for a loss of a yard to force Northwestern to settle for a field goal by Charlie Kuhbander.

The Badgers took a 7-3 lead later in the first quarter on a seven-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Taylor. It was the third-straight run by Taylor to finish the drive from the 15-yard line after starting the possession from the Northwestern 47-yard line.

The two teams traded interceptions on the next two offensive series and followed that up with back-to-back three-and-outs by the offenses. Northwestern’s late second-quarter touchdown drive of 12 plays was the first drive by either team to go more than seven plays in the first half.

Doak Walker Award watch list highlighted by 2016 semifinalists Barkley and Pettway

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A watch list of the top running backs in the nation has been released by the PwC SMU Athletic Forum on Thursday. The Doak Walker Award watch list is full of great players, including 2016 Doak Walker Award semifinalists Saquon Barkley (Penn State) and Kamryn Pettway (Auburn).

Among those included on this year’s initial Doak Walker Award watch list (more players can be added at any time) are LSU’s Derrius Guice, Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, LJ Scott of Michigan State, Mike Weber of Ohio State, and Bo Scarbrough of Alabama, Washington’s Myles Gaskin, and Western Michigan’s Jarvion Franklin.

D’Onta Foreman of Texas beat out both Barkley and Pettway last season for the award. The Doak Walker Award has been presented to the nation’s top running back annually since 1990. Among the winners over the years have included Ricky Williams, LaDainian Tomlinson, Reggie Bush, and Montee Ball.

To be included on this watch list, the university athletic department must submit a nomination.

2017 Doak Walker Award Watch List

Josh Adams, Notre Dame
Ryquell Armstead, Temple
Kalen Ballage, Arizona State
Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Alex Barnes, Kansas State
Jamauri Bogan, Western Michigan
D’Angelo Brewer, Tulsa
Nick Chubb, Georgia
Jordan Chunn, Troy
Justin Crawford, West Virginia
Damarea Crockett, Missouri
Rico Dowdle, South Carolina
D’Andre Ferby, WKU
Kendrick Foster, Illinois
Jarvion Franklin, Western Michigan
Myles Gaskin, Washington
James Gilbert, Ball State
Derrius Guice, LSU
Damien Harris, Alabama
Kyle Hicks, TCU
Justice Hill, Oklahoma State
Jon Hilliman, Boston College
Justin Jackson, Northwestern
Chris James, Wisconsin
Ty Johnson, Maryland
Ronald Jones II, USC
Ray Lawry, Old Dominion
Phillip Lindsay, Colorado
Tonny Lindsey Jr., Utah State
Bryce Love, Stanford
Sony Michel, Georgia
Dedrick Mills, Georgia Tech
David Montgomery, Iowa State
Jamal Morrow, Washington State
Ryan Nall, Oregon State
Jacques Patrick, Florida State
Kamryn Pettway, Auburn
Demario Richard, Arizona State
Diocemy Saint Juste, Hawaii
Bo Scarbrough, Alabama
Jordan Scarlett, Florida
LJ Scott, Michigan State
Bradrick Shaw, Wisconsin
Armand Shyne, Utah
Justin Silmon, Kansas State
Ito Smith, Southern Miss
Rodney Smith, Minnesota
Benny Snell Jr., Kentucky
Terry Swanson, Toledo
Shaq Vann, Eastern Michigan
Akrum Wadley, Iowa
Mark Walton, Miami
Warren Wand, Arkansas State
Tre Watson, California
Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt
Mike Weber, Ohio State
Braeden West, SMU
Devwah Whaley, Arkansas
Aeris Williams, Mississippi State
Shaun Wilson, Duke
Marquis Young, Massachusetts