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The Music City Bowl was a very dumb football game

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We analyzed every single decision we could find in this game.

NCAA Football: Music Bowl-Kentucky vs Northwestern Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday December 29th at approximately 3:40 pm in Nashville, Tenn. a game of American Football started. It took nearly four hours for the game to finish.

Football games are not rational creatures. There is too much human error on a college football field for rationality. We expect chaos and absurdity to reign supreme, sometimes Bad plays are made, passes are dropped, and games are lost. However, most games are on a fairly normal spectrum of dumbness. This game was beyond comparison. It was off the charts.

Let’s roll through a greatest hits list.

1st Quarter

The Kentucky player who flipped Bennett Skowronek after the play was over, possibly knocking Skowronek out of the game.

Dumbness rating: 8.5/10

This went relatively unnoticed given what happened next, but this was a pretty strange and completely unnecessary (borderline dirty) play that directly affected Northwestern’s offense. We never got word on what happened to Skowronek, but after this play, he didn’t play another snap. Northwestern lost its best wide receiver due to a pointless and unnecessary hit after the play was clearly over by a Kentucky player. Not sure what the status of the injury was at all during and after the play, but it was a bad look. Kentucky got flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

But this play really triggered the stupidity for the rest of the game. Kentucky’s players felt very angry that the play had been called illegal. And yes, it was a borderline and uncommon call, for sure. You can’t judge the play itself because Skowronek got injured. But instead of moving on, Kentucky escalated problems.

2nd Quarter

The decision to run a trick play that led to Clayton Thorson’s injury

Dumbness rating: 2/10

While any trick play involving your quarterback is dangerous, the play also worked to perfection and you can’t blame anyone for Thorson getting hurt. Larkin threw a dime to Thorson and completed the pass. If Thorson gets up and is fine, we’re applauding the coaching staff. In a game with fewer dumb things, this would’ve been a talking point, but this is relatively defensible.

The Benny Snell Ejection

Dumbness rating: 10/10

Look, let’s say that the referee decides to not make a big deal of the Snell “push.” Is there a single Northwestern fan or coach who would’ve even remembered that play happened? Heck no!

This is where I must mention that technically, by the rules, he could’ve been ejected for making contact with the ref intentionally. But who would have the glass ego to do that? Why did the ref (Chris Coyte) even try to help him up then? In a game of this magnitude for both sides, the referees really screwed up here.

The unsportsmanlike penalty Kentucky drew after Stephen Johnson fell out of bounds that took it out of field goal range.

Dumbness rating: 8/10

In another important but relatively unremembered play, Kentucky’s Stephen Johnson fell awkwardly on his right shoulder while running out of bounds. There was nothing too malicious, but Kentucky was irate from the Skowronek penalty earlier and the Snell ejection. The sideline erupted in anger. The referees, trying to restore order, gave Kentucky an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that moved the Wildcats out of field goal range for Austin McGinnis, an excellent kicker. Kentucky ended up losing the game by one point.

The Paddy Fisher targeting ejection

Dumbness rating: 9/10

On this one, you could argue that Paddy Fisher launched at the Kentucky player with his head, which takes it from 10 points to 9. However, for one, the Kentucky player was also leaping in the air during the play. Fisher has gotten ejected for targeting before, in the Penn State game, but this looked like a textbook tackle that went slightly awry. Even worse, the referees waited an eternity to throw the flag, something that happened repeatedly throughout the game. They confirmed targeting on the review, to the irritation of the Northwestern fans in Nashville and at home.

Was it a makeup call? The world will never know. What we do know is that the entire stadium was booing the referees.

3rd quarter

Fitzgerald going for it on 4th-and-2 up 17-7 in distant field goal range

Dumbness rating: 2/10

Those who are angry at this are really judging this one from the outcome. Flynn Nagel failed to secure the ball before going to the ground (not reviewed, for some reason) and Northwestern turned the ball over on downs. Kuhbander would’ve had to kick a 43-yard field goal to seal the points, and he missed from 43 later on, so this decision is easily defensible.

The Jordan Jones unsportsmanlike penalty

Dumbness rating: 10/10

After Kentucky scored, it had a chance to stop Northwestern on its ensuing drive. Instead, after Jeremy Larkin broke a run, Kentucky linebacker Jordan Jones, best known in 2017 for starting a pointless fight between Kentucky and Louisville, appeared to knock Larkin on the head with his arm after the play. Was it a punch? Maybe, maybe not. Was it necessary? No. It was not necessary. Jordan Jones then patted Larkin on the head after the arm swat, which was also unnecessary. Just let the play end, Jordan. Kentucky got whistled for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, but Northwestern missed a 43-yard field goal, so it didn’t matter too much.

The non-targeting call on Riley Lees

Dumbness rating: I have no idea what targeting is/10

This rule has been miserable to watch for most of the season.

The Northwestern flea flicker trick play nonsense on fourth and short.

Dumbness rating: 10/10

WHAT THE HECK WAS THIS? After a critical Jeremy Larkin run looked like it had won the game for Northwestern, the Wildcats once again had fourth and short, this time near the goal line. Take note that Northwestern didn’t need to score. It just needed a yard. Northwestern also had run several decent QB sneaks and also had over 300 rushing yards at this point. That is Matt Alviti’s best skill. It also had the leading rusher in program history and another stud in Jeremy Larkin. Instead, Northwestern called a reverse and a wide receiver pass. Of course it didn’t work.

In this postgame presser, Fitz took full blame for the debacle. He said it worked in practice. He admitted it was a dumb decision. Thus, it’s a 10/10. Everyone knew it was bad.

Pat Fitzgerald going for it on fourth and short from his own 40

Dumbness rating: 7.5/10

I understand the reasoning. Northwestern was exhausted, emotionally spent, and just wanted to end the game. The secondary had not played well all game, and Kentucky was playing well. If Alviti had moved half an inch forward, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. In fact, on the replay, he may have actually gotten that extra inch. Would you rather get an inch to end the game or pin Kentucky inside its own 20 with less than 150 seconds and one timeout? It’s an interesting decision. I think teams should go for it more, and I can’t fault Fitz for trying to just go home.

However, it makes less sense once you look at the strengths of this team. The last three years have been built around the defense. That’s the unit that Northwestern that you trust. The defense got the stops in the three overtime games. The defense had just gotten a key pick-six that essentially won the game. Northwestern could’ve gotten an early sack and ended the game on the other end. That’s been the recipe for success. Northwestern had also gotten stopped on three close fourth downs beforehand and were in extremely dangerous territory.

Mark Stoops going for two at the end

Dumbness rating: 3.5/10

It’s a bowl game. Both teams wanted to go home. It was easily defensible. Northwestern had three timeouts and could’ve gone down the field with the time remaining. That being said, Kentucky would’ve had a significant edge in any overtime play. Northwestern had lost its best receiver and starting quarterback. The offense scored zero points in the second half.

Pat Fitzgerald burning two timeouts before the two-point conversion

Timeout 1 Dumbness rating: 7/10

Timeout 2 Dumbness rating: infinity/10

This was ludicrous. At least give your team a chance! 37 seconds and three timeouts aren’t ideal, but you do have them. It’s college football. You have to save those timeouts!

Amendment: I thought the first one made some sense, but the second timeout was pointless.