Kentucky and Northwestern will meet in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 29 in a matchup that pits a pair of Wildcats who aren’t too familiar with each other.
The two programs have faced off just once before, and good luck finding anyone who remembers it. Northwestern beat Kentucky 7-0 in 1928 back when Harry Gamage was coaching UK. Mark Stoops’ squad won’t likely be referring back to that tape.
Here are five things to know about Northwestern:
1. Seven-game winning streak
Northwestern has the fourth-longest winning streak in the nation. The Wildcats were winners of their final seven regular-season games. Those wins came against Maryland, Iowa, Michigan State, Nebraska, Purdue, Minnesota and Illinois. It wasn’t the most daunting slate, but it’s been quite an impressive run.
Even more impressive is how the streak remained in tact. Northwestern played three straight overtime games from Oct. 21 to Nov. 4. First there was a 17-10 overtime win over Iowa, then a 39-31 three-overtime win over Michigan State, followed a week later by a 31-24 overtime victory at Nebraska.
Northwestern finished 9-3 overall and 7-2 in Big Ten play behind only Wisconsin in the West division.
The Wildcats are No. 21 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
2. Coached by Pat Fitzgerald
Pat Fitzgerald is in his 12th season at Northwestern. He’s the second-longest tenured coach in the Big Ten behind Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz.
Fitzgerald has now led the Wildcats to eight bowl appearances and three consecutive postseason trips. He’s the winningest coach in program history and a Northwestern lifer, having been a star linebacker for the Wildcats in the mid-1990s.
Fitzgerald is 86-65 in his Northwestern coaching career. He signed a contract extension in April that runs through the 2026 season.
3. Justin Jackson leads the way
Add Justin Jackson’s name to the list of top running backs Kentucky has faced this season. He’s the all-time leading rusher in Northwestern history.
Jackson, a senior from Carol Stream, Ill., was named first-team All Big Ten by the media last season as a junior, and was named second-team All Big Ten as a sophomore. He’s just the second player in Big Ten history to rush for 1,000 yards in four seasons. The other? Former Wisconsin Heisman winner Ron Dayne.
His overall numbers dropped a bit this season, but he still ran for 1,154 yards and 9 touchdowns. Jackson averaged 96 rushing yards per game. He ranked third among Big Ten players in rushing yards.
Jackson, along with quarterback Clayton Thorson, form quite the duo. Thorson ranked third in the Big Ten with 234 passing yards per game. The junior completed 61 percent of his passes and threw for 15 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
4. Paddy Fisher, freshman of the year
Paddy Fisher led Northwestern in tackles, and it wasn’t close. The freshman linebacker recorded 110 of them. Second on the team was linebacker Nate Hall with 79.
Fisher was named Big Ten Defensive Freshman of the Year by the Big Ten Network.
Hall is another player to watch on Northwestern’s defense. He was second in the Big Ten with 16.5 tackles for loss.
5. Statistical advantage
The Wildcats of Northwestern have better all-around numbers than the Wildcats of Kentucky.
Northwestern ranks 59th in the country in total offense with 405 yards per game. Kentucky is 103rd in that category with 351 yards per game.
Northwestern ranks 37th in total defense, allowing 359 yards per game. Kentucky is 90th in total defense, surrendering 426 yards per game.