It’s not the news, it’s the timing. Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops has suspended LB Denzel Ware for the Music City Bowl based on his actions in a brawl at the end of a season-capper against Louisville.
One wonders why the decision wasn’t made sooner. This only revives an ugly controversy for Kentucky at a very bad time. Was Stoops hearing conflicting voices on how to go forward?
Ware pulled a pro-wrestling stunt on the sideline and needed to go. The question isn’t so much how missing a starting linebacker will hurt the team, but rather how focused is the roster going into a match-up with Northwestern?
The Chicagoans aren’t likely to be beaten by an unfocused opponent. Northwestern finished the season with a 7-game winning streak, and allowed only 1 touchdown over the last 2 games.
Who: Kentucky Wildcats vs Northwestern Wildcats
When: Friday, December 29th, 4:30 PM EST
Where: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN
Lines: UK (+7.5) vs NW (-7.5) / O/U Total: (51)
The action has only driven the line slightly toward Northwestern’s favor, though it is a crucial 1 point difference from below to above 7. Is the consensus to simply subtract Ware’s on-field contribution and that’s it?
Maybe that’s the level-headed analysis. But conditions are ripe for another Oregon situation, where a respected Power-5 school comes into a bowl game against a strong program, and looks out of sorts. Kentucky’s last decent game against a decent team was a 37-34 loss to Mississippi almost 2 months ago. Their last win against a solid FBS team was in mid-season over Missouri, and one could argue that the Tigers were still putting it together at that point.
In the same stretch, Northwestern beat Iowa and Michigan State, and shut-out Minnesota.
Kentucky’s only hope is an individual player dominating his match-up and turning the momentum. Could tailback Benny Snell Jr. be the guy? The powerfully-built sophomore had 211 yards in the loss to Louisville, though the Cardinals may have been content to allow the run with a big lead on the board. Moreover, Snell Jr. has 18 touchdowns on the season. If Kentucky gets a lead, they’ll just feed him the rock.
But Northwestern has a quality QB in Clayton Thorsen, a tall junior who has only thrown 3 picks in the last 6 games and steered the ‘Cats through an incredible string of 3 overtime wins in a row. His starting tailback Justin Jackson hasn’t racked up as many scores as Snell Jr. but had a pair of fabulous outings to finish the season.
Northwestern should engineer enough of a lead by halftime that the team’s stout defense can play patient and concentrate on punishing the opposing star RB. Kentucky won’t have enough to otherwise threaten in the 2nd half, assuming the Wildcats execute as they have lately. The chance of a blow-out win for the favorite is higher than usual.
Take Northwestern to cover in the cat-fight.