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Northwestern vs. Kentucky preview: three things to know

Mike Hankwitz, meet Benny Snell Jr.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

We're just over two weeks away from Northwestern's December 29th Music City Bowl date with Kentucky, but, with the host of other bowls and other holiday season festivities to fill your time, that date is rapidly approaching. With that in mind, we're ready to hit the ground running with our bowl preview coverage, starting with a general look at what kind of team Kentucky is. Here are INSERT things to know about the Wildcats in blue.

1. Benny Snell Jr. is Kentucky’s offensive catalyst

First of all, it's borderline criminal that a running back named Benny, even a thickly-built back like the 5-foot-11, 223 pound Snell, doesn't have the nickname "Benny the Jet." If you haven't seen the Sandlot, which may be a crime in and of itself, I apologize.

In all seriousness, Snell is a powerful back. He's averaging just under 110 yards per game, and he's amassed a whopping 18 touchdowns this season (10 out of the Wildcat formation), including 12 in his final five games. He isn't much of a factor in the passing game, but he's had four 27+ carry games, so you should expect a big dose of Snell in Nashville.

2. Quarterback Stephen Johnson isn't the most prolific passer, but he can run a bit

Johnson, who stands at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, has completed just over 60 percent of his passes this season, and has thrown for 2,048 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. He began the season decently enough, but threw just one touchdown in his final six games of the regular season. In the final two games over the season — against Georgia and Louisville — he went a combined 20-of-41 for 248 yards, with no touchdowns and no picks.

Basically, he hasn't really exploded in any recent games, but he doesn't make a ton of mistakes either. That efficiency in the passing game has led to a No. 29 ranking in passing S&P+ (Kentucky's offensive rushing S&P+ is ranked No. 58).

What makes Johnson more effective is his ability to keep defenses off balance with his legs. He's rushed for 518 yards this season (on 7.2 yards per attempt). He only has three 50+ yard rushing games, but the threat of Johnson scrambling is enough to at least force Northwestern defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz to prepare for it.

3. By the numbers, Kentucky's defense is not good

The Kentucky defense ranks 102nd in S&P+. The Wildcats from down south conceded 37 or more points in three of their last four contests (to Ole Miss, Georgia and Louisville) and struggled against a lot of its SEC competition.

One area where Kentucky isn't bad is the pass rush. Mark Stoops's team ranks eighth in the SEC with 28 sacks, 13.5 of which come from edge rushers Josh Allen and Denzil Ware.

The defense also ranks fifth in the conference in interceptions with 11, and four of those come from leading tackler Mike Edwards, a safety. In this way, the unit is high risk, high reward.