Tennessee vs. Northwestern Prediction, Outback Bowl Game Preview

    Northwestern (10-2) has a chance to come up with its best season even with the first 11-win campaign, but it needs to overcome a Tennessee (8-4) team trying to make up for a disappointing year. Check out the Tennessee vs. Northwestern prediction and Outback Bowl game preview.

    December 18, 2015

    Northwestern (10-2) has a chance to come up with its best season even with the first 11-win campaign, but it needs to overcome a Tennessee (8-4) team trying to make up for a disappointing year. The one and only time the two met, the Volunteers rolled at will 48-28 in the 1997 Citrus Bowl. Can the Wildcats be any better and get just their third bowl win? Check out the Tennessee vs. Northwestern prediction and Outback Bowl game preview.


    Tennessee vs. Northwestern Game Preview

    Broadcast

    Date: Friday, January 1

    Game Time: 12:00 pm ET
    Network: ESPN2
    Venue: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
    Follow and/or Contact @PeteFiutak  

    Why You Need To Care

    Northwestern isn’t pretty. There’s no passing game, there’s nothing flashy, there aren’t any big plays from the running game, but there might not be a more rock-solid team in college football in terms of timing and doing whatever is needed to get by.

    It’s not exactly be a job done by Pat Fitzgerald with smoke and mirrors, but the Wildcats were good enough to hold Stanford to six points and gave up fewer than 20 points in nine of the 12 games. The defense is the best in the Fitzgerald era, doing a great job of getting off the field with a strong secondary and brick wall of a run defense. However, there’s absolutely no margin for error.

    Five of the wins were by a touchdown or less, and close wins over Stanford, Duke and Illinois all could’ve gone either way. Michigan got up early, Iowa got the ground game moving, and Northwestern had no chance whatsoever to get back in the game. This is a front-runner – as long as it’s in control of the tempo and the clock, everything is okay. If this gets into a shootout, forget about it.

    NU won in its first bowl appearance with a 20-14 battle with Cal in the 1949 Rose Bowl, and that was it for a long, long time until beating Mississippi State in the 2013 Gator. In between, the Wildcats lost nine straight bowl games, but they got the job done the last time they played an SEC team in the post-season.

    Tennessee looked like it was setting the tone for a big 2015 with a 45-28 blowout over Iowa that was worse than the final score in last season’s TaxSlayer, but with five losses in the last eight bowl games since the 2002 Citrus over Michigan, a loss here would hurt. It would be even worse considering how this season has gone.

    The talent was there, the SEC East was hot garbage, and there were several chances to turn this into a great year, but the Vols gagged away a two-overtime game to Oklahoma, couldn’t come up with a late fourth down stop in the one-point loss to Florida, and had Alabama and Arkansas both in trouble in different ways. This might have been an inconsistent team, but it was a good one, rebounding to win five straight to close out the season once the schedule softened up. Already the best season since 2007, once again, closing out with a decisive bowl win will get the hype going for the following season.

    Why Northwestern Will Win

    The defense is the real deal. It might not have a bunch of superstars, and it might not have a slew of next-level prospects, but it’s a veteran group with six senior starters who all work well together and all are capable of rising in the right moment to come up with the big stop. The secondary gave up yards over the second half of the season with 200 yards or more allowed in each of the last five games, but Ball State is the only team to throw for two scores on the secondary.

    NU hasn’t faced decent quarterbacks in Stanford’s Kevin Hogan, Minnesota’s Mitch Leidner, Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg and Wisconsin’s Joel Stave – notice the word decent, not great – so it’s not like all the production came against a bunch of bums. The Wildcats still came up with 12 picks and allowed just five touchdown passes on the year. The run defense is even better, allowing more than 200 yards just twice. Those both happened to be the two losses, with eight of the 16 rushing touchdowns allowed coming in those two games. Tennessee’s offense isn’t tough enough or powerful enough to blast away on the Wildcat front four.

    Why Tennessee Will Win

    The Vols can put this away with two early scores.

    Tennessee’s problems have been in the fourth quarters of games, but the offense has been great early on outscoring teams 123-52 in the first quarter and 129-60 in the second. There’s no real threat of a collapse late against a punchless Northwestern team that doesn’t have any sort of pop to the passing game, isn’t built to come back, and has only scored 51 points in first quarters this season. The Wildcats have only thrown for over 200 yards once this year with 256 yards and three score against Ball State, and didn’t crank up more than one touchdown pass in any game against anyone else.

    The Tennessee defense has been a bit of a disappointment overall at times, but it’s phenomenal on third downs with offenses converting just 28% of their third down tries. Northwestern does all the little things right, but so does Tennessee – the Vols are solid on turnovers, don’t get flagged, and have great special teams. What the Wildcats do to win won’t work against the Vols.

    Player Who Matters

    Tennessee RB Jalen Hurd had a nice few games over the back half of his 2014 freshman season, and then he busted out in the bowl win over Iowa rumbling for 122 yards and two scores on just 16 carries. He’s had a nice sophomore campaign with 1,158 yards and 11 scores, taking over more late in the year with 151 yards on a 34-carry day against Missouri, and he pounded on the good Vanderbilt defense for 120 yards and a score on 19 carries. With time off to get ready, the bruising back should be able to handle the workload against a Northwestern defensive front tough enough to keep him to around four yards per carry. As long as he’s coming up with decent runs on first downs, he’ll be doing his job.

    Justin Jackson has been everything for the Northwestern offense. The O line has done a great job from the start at getting physical and pounding away against Stanford, Duke, and everyone else by Michigan and Iowa, and Jackson has taken advantage. He’s not built to be a workhorse, but that’s exactly what he’s been with 72 carries for 311 yards and two scores in the final two games and four straight 100-yard games to finish things up. He took on his share of bumps and bruises, but like Hurd, the time off will help him in a very, very big way.

    What’s Going To Happen?

    Can Tennessee show up with the right attitude and the right focus? If it treats this game like Alabama, it’s going to roll past the try-hard Wildcats that don’t have the offense to keep up any sort of pace. It’s all about the first quarter – if Northwestern gets out fine, this is going to be a war. If Tennessee is up by two scores, it might be okay to go do something else with your day. However, the Outback has consistently been among the best of the New Year’s bowls with the last four and four of the last five decided by seven points or fewer, and the one aberration – the 2011 Florida 37-24 win over Penn State – was a battle until late. This one might not be quite as close – the Vols will show why there was so much hype.

    Tennessee vs. Northwestern Prediction

    Final Score: Tennessee 30, Northwestern 17, Line: Tennessee -8.5, o/u: 47.5
    Must See Rating: 5: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens – 1: Property Brothers at Home on the Ranch … 3

    MORE: BOWLNANZA: 40 video previews for 40 bowl games

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