2017 Music City
Bowl Page


Played December 29, 2017

Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN
Attendance: 48,675

Northwestern's 2017 regular season record: 9-3 overall, 7-2 conference. Second place, B1G West; tied for third place, Big Ten

Coach: Pat Fitzgerald

Captains: Godwin Igwebuike, Justin Jackson, Tyler Lancaster, Claton Thorson

Opponent: Kentucky

NU/Kentucky series record (prior to bowl): NU led, 1-0

  1 2 3 4 F
NU 3 14 0
UK 7 0 7 9 23


UK: Snell 3-yd run (MacGinnis kick), Q1 12:42
NU 0, UK 7
NU: C. Kuhbander 33-yd FG, Q1 03:14
NU 3, UK 7
NU: J. Jackson 5-yd run (Kuhbander kick), Q2 14:07
NU 10, UK 7
NU: Jackson 2-yd run (Kuhbander kick), Q2 05:12
NU 17, UK 7
UK: Johnson 3-yd run (MacGinnis kick), Q3 07:11
NU 17, UK 14
NU: K. Queiro 26-yd interception (Kuhbander kick), Q4 07:49
NU 24, UK 14
UK: MacGinnis 48-yd FG, Q4 04:24
NU 24, UK 17
UK: Johnson 9-yd run (Johnson pass failed) Q4 00:37
NU 24, UK 23

NU Holds on to Win Music City Bowl

Justin Jackson, in his final NU game.   [All images are AP] 

Northwestern held on to beat Kentucky, 24-23, in the Music City Bowl, claiming first-ever back to back bowl wins for the program and its tenth win for the season. 2017 is the third ten-win season during Pat Fitzgerald's time as head coach, and his fourth as part of the program. The only ten-win season for NU that did not involve Fitz was in 1903.

The game began inauspiciously for NU. The (Blue) Wildcats scored on the opening drive in just over two minutes, and the teams settled into trading punts before Northwestern got onto the scoreboard with a 33-yard field goal.

Early in the second quarter, NU had the ball at midfield, and Justin Jackson tore through the Kentucky defense to bring NU within field goal range. On first down at the Kentucky 29-yard line, Clayton Thorson handed the ball off. Jeremy Larkin then lobbed a pass back to Thorson, who completed for first and goal. However, Thorson injured his right knee on the play, was sent to the sideline, and Matt Alviti stepped in to quarterback the remainder of the game. An MRI later confirmed that Thorson tore his ACL and will require surgery in January.

With the (Purple) 'Cats positioned at the Kentucky five-yard line, Jackson plowed past the goal to give NU a 10-3 lead, and the team kept that lead for the rest of the game, though with considerable difficulty.  The game's refs became a significant part of the story, and a chaotic one at that, ejecting players on both sides and unloading a series of questionable calls against both teams. The wildest penalty came during the second quarter of the game, when an official offered to help Kentucky running back Benny Snell, Jr., back to his feet after a tackle. Snell, declining the help, moved the officials hands out of the way, and was promptly flagged for "initiating contact with an official," which removed him from play.

Soon afterward, NU linebacker Paddy Fisher got ejected for targeting, despite all replays of the play apparently showing a perfectly legal tackle. The loss of Fisher, combined with the earlier loss of linebacker Nate Hall (to injury), put the Northwestern defense on its heels, joining the offense-- now led by Alviti, who had not thrown a pass in competition since early October.

Fortunately, both Alviti and the defense stepped up, trusted themselves, and kept NU in the lead.

By the middle of the third quarter, Kentucky was again down by just three, 17-14, and was driving. However, Kyle Queiro took a Stephen Johnson pass the other direction, notched a pick six, and provided arguably the most important play of the day for Northwestern.

The ten-point lead almost proved insufficient. With less than five minutes to go, Kentucky made a 48-yard field goal. NU's next drive stalled at its own 39 yard line. With fourth down and one yard to go, the Purple Wildcats rolled the dice, Alviti attempted to haul the ball across, and NU was stopped on downs in its own territory. Kentucky moved the ball to the nine, at which point Johnson kept the ball and raced in for what appeared to be the tying score with 37 seconds left.

Kentucky, at the tail end of a wild game and a slug-fest of a second half, decided to end the game then and there, going for two, rather than playing for overtime. Johnson fired a pass that fell to the turf, and NU white-knuckled its way to its third bowl victory in the Fitz era. Jackson, NU's all-time rushing leader, cracked the top-ten all-time rushing leaders in NCAA history during the game, picking up 157 yards and a pair of touchdowns along the way.


Music City Party Page

Per HailToPurple.com bowl tradition, we posted a special party front page right after NU won the Music City Bowl.

NU - Kentucky Series (NU Led 1-0)

The two Wildcats have played each other only once before, in 1928. 2-0 Kentucky came to Dyche Stadium to take on 1-1 NU in an early-season non-conference match. It was Northwestern's third season in its new stadium and the first season wearing a new uniform with what would come to be known as "Northwestern Stripes."

The match was highly-anticipated. Kentucky's state governor accompanied the university's team to Evanston. Kentucky, reveling in playing another Wildcat team, brought its own, live, wildcat mascot to the game, along with the school marching band. WBBM and WMAQ both broadcast the game on local radio. The game was preceded by a matchup between NU and Notre Dame's reserve squads.

NU was concerned with injuries coming into the game. Star tackle Harry Kent was sidelined, hurt in the previous game against Ohio State. However, the Purple 'Cats needn't have worried. NU captain Walt Holmer accounted for 81 of NU's 168 yards rushing, which were enough to upend Kentucky, 7-0. During the second quarter, NU drove to the Kentucky 20-yard line. The NU 'Cats began a rushing play, but the carrier fumbled behind the line of scrimmage. Holmer recovered and threw a pass to Henry Bruder, who raced into the endzone for the day's only score.

Northwestern would go on to have a decent 5-3 season. The other Wildcats would finish 4-3-1.

Program from the '28 NU-Kentucky game