New Year’s Eve sees bowl season continue as the number 22 Northwestern Wildcats (8-5) will be taking on the number 17 Utah Utes (9-4) in the Holiday Bowl. The game will be played at SDCCU Stadium. For the Northwestern Wildcats, they made an improbable run to the Big Ten Championship only to be destroyed by Ohio State, 45-24.
Notable wins for the Wildcats this season include beating Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Iowa. They lost to Notre Dame by just 10 and Michigan by just a field goal. For Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats, they are hoping to play spoiler to Utah.
For the Utes, they have wins this season over Oregon, UCLA, and USC. While they lost to all ranked opponents, all of those games were close. They lost to Washington State by 4 and Washington by a touchdown. Their biggest issue right now is their health. Coach Kyle Whittingham says that quarterback Tyler Huntley needs a “miracle” to play after breaking his collarbone earlier in the season and running back Zack Moss is out after suffering a season-ending knee injury. Still, the defense will keep them in it, and possibly win it for them. This game is scheduled for a 7:00 pm ET kickoff.
The point spread for this one comes in with the Utah Utes as 7-point favorites. The over/under on total points scored is set at 45.5 points.
By The Numbers
Utah’s defense is the real deal. They rank 15thin the nation allowing only 315.1 yards per game to opposing offenses (4th against the rush and 24th versus the pass), 28th in team sacks (2.69 per game), tied for 16th in defensive touchdowns and have one of the best red zone defenses. Northwestern comes in at 63rd in total defense, allowing 390.7 yards per game.
Offensively, the season advantage also goes to Utah, who ranks 69thin the nation averaging 396 yards per game. Northwestern comes in at 105, averaging 356.8 total yards of offense per game. They are also averaging 23.7 points per game while holding opponents to an average of 23.5.
Northwestern Looking For Upset
If there is one thing that is clear, Pat Fitzgerald will have his kids prepared for this game. It is for that reason that Fitzgerald has become so respected and has even had rumors of NFL teams who may have interest. His offense will be led by quarterback Clayton Thorson. On the season, Thorson has thrown for 2,942 yards and 15 touchdowns, while being intercepted 14 times. He also has 9 touchdowns rushing. His leading receivers have been Flynn Nagel (66 catches, 759 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Cameron Green (50 catches, 437 yards, 4 touchdowns).
On the ground, the Wildcats are led by Isaiah Bowser, Jeremy Larkin, and John Moten IV. Bowser leads all rushers with 796 yards and 6 touchdowns. Larkin has 346 yards and 5 touchdowns while Moten has 204 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Unfortunately, the Wildcats will be without a couple of starters on the defensive side. Linebacker Nate Hall and defensive tackle Jordan Thompson will both be out due to surgeries. That will leave the field a little more exposed, but the question is whether Utah’s injured offense can take advantage. The defensive stat leaders are Nate Hall and JR Pace (3 interceptions apiece), Blake Gallagher (120 tackles) and Joe Gaziano (6.5 sacks).
Offense May Be Dependent On Health Of Quarterback
Again, there are conflicting reports about the health of starter Tyler Huntley. Coach Whittingham has said it would take a miracle, but some believe he is just playing coy. On the season, Huntley had 1,762 yards passing and 12 touchdowns versus 6 interceptions. He also added 304 yards and 4 touchdowns on the ground. If he can’t go, it will be Jason Shelley taking his place. Shelley has thrown for 860 yards with 3 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.
The leading receivers are Britain Covey (611 yards, 1 touchdown) and Jaylen Dixon (475 yards, 1 touchdown). Zach Moss had 1,092 yards rushing but with him out Te Utah Utesfor this one, the next leading rusher is Armand Shyne, who has 479 yards and 5 touchdowns on 106 carries.
Defensively, Chase Hansen leads the way with 114 tackles, while Bradlee Anae leads the team with 7.5 sacks and Jaylon Johnson has 4 interceptions.
Utes Win In Low Scoring Affair
I like the Utes to win this one, if for no other reason than the fact that I think their defense is going to cause nightmares for Pat Fitzgerald and his offense. Still, though, the Utes have to find a way to score themselves, and with their top rusher out and their quarterback questionable, that won’t be easy. Kyle Whittingham’s Utah Utes have won five bowl games in a row and I don’t think that stops here, but for my money, if Huntley doesn’t play, I will take Northwestern and the 7 points. If by some chance Huntley does go, I would probably lean more towards taking the Utes despite giving up the 7.