The Kentucky Wildcats fought valiantly, but they came up short in the Music City Bowl vs Northwestern.
it was a game marred by injuries, ejections and untimely turnovers for UK, who had a chance to overcome it all, but a late pick-six and missed two-point conversions by UK proved to be the difference for the Big Ten Wildcats.
Stephen Johnson threw a pick-six in the final quarter that put Northwestern up 24-14 with under eight minutes to play. UK would score nine unanswered points, including a touchdown in the final seconds, but UK went for two and the win with 37 seconds left.
But the pass went off Tavin Richardson’s hands, allowing Northwestern to secure a 24-23 win.
Here are three things to know.
Benny Snell Jr was ejected.
Any game-plan Kentucky had going into the Music City Bowl was quickly abandoned when their star running back was thrown out of the game, all because a referee had his ego bruised and he decided to take it personally. After being swarmed and pushed back by the entire Northwestern defense (or, as Tim Tebow put it at halftime, seventeen guys), Snell looked up to the referee asking why there wasn’t a flag thrown for unnecessary roughness.
The referee decided to then take it upon himself to make Snell stand up. He grabbed Snell’s arms, trying to “assist” him. Snell pushed his hands away, and the ref tossed his little yellow hankie into the air. He then ejected Snell for putting his hands on an official.
Did he touch the official? Yes. However, said official initiated the contact. In that situation, context must be taken, and you cannot throw out the best player in the game simply because you’re upset that the player didn’t want your help getting off the field. We will never know how the bowl game would have played out had this not happened. However, we do know that it made Kentucky one-dimensional, and made it extremely difficult for them to get a much-needed bowl victory.
Breakout Game for Kentucky’s Young WRs
Tavin Richardson and Kayaune Ross showed UK fans just what they might be able to deliver in seasons to come, balling out today for the Wildcats. Richardson hauled in five receptions for 89 yards, and Ross added 67 yards on three catches. Ross also had a chance to haul in a huge touchdown late in the game, but it was broken up in the endzone.
Both young men still have room to improve, but they came up with big catches and both made high-point grabs. The two towering WRs, who stand 6’3” and 6’5”, give Kentucky’s QB a pair of imposing targets on the outside, and if they can carry this performance into the offseason and use it to grow, it makes Kentucky a true dual-attack team next year.
Defense Stands Tall
The story of this game for UK was the much-maligned defense standing tall time after time. After the offense had a mini meltdown between Stephen Johnson’s injury and Benny Snell being ejected, the defense rose up and held Northwestern scoreless for the rest of regulation.
They stopped Northwestern four times on fourth down. They also forced a long field goal in the second half that was missed, all while the offense was struggling to do much of anything and even threw a pick-six.
That’s why UK had a chance to win this game, which is a far cry from most of the regular season when the defense kept UK from winning more games. Sure. Northwestern was missing their quarterback for about three quarters, but it was clear backup Matt Alviti could run the offense successfully.
Even so, UK’s defense gave a valiant effort that should be commended after how much they struggled down the stretch.