2015 Outback Bowl Preview

This game should be a close one and pits the Volunteers offense against a stingy Wildcats defense. Photo Courtesy: Rhonda Shuburg Overton‎ Facebook Page
This game should be a close one and pits the Volunteers offense against a stingy Wildcats defense. Photo Courtesy: Rhonda Shuburg Overton‎ Facebook Page

By Jeff Cantrell

Game Info
#13 Northwestern Wildcats vs. #23 Tennessee Volunteers
Friday – January 1 – 11:00 am CT
TV: ESPN2
Raymond James Stadium – Tampa, Florida

Records Before the Game
Northwestern Wildcats (10-2, 6-2 Big 10)
Tennessee Volunteers (8-4, 5-3 SEC)

How did Northwestern get here? 
Northwestern began the season in style, knocking off a Standard team that ended the season ranked 6th in the nation. The Wildcats then rattled off four more wins before suffering a devastating 38-0 loss to Michigan that brought Northwestern hurtling back to earth. The next week they suffered another equally lopsided loss, 40-10, to an Iowa team that ended the season ranked 5th in the nation. Rebounding, the Wildcats ran the table on their remaining schedule, winning close matches over the next five matchups to finish the season 10-2.

How did Tennessee get here?
Tennessee started the season with a solid 59-30 victory over, MAC opponent, Bowling Green. Then the Volunteers were dealt a heartbreaking double OT loss to Oklahoma in which Tennessee gave up a pair of 4th quarter touchdowns that sent the game into overtime. Rebounding, the Vols knocked off Western Carolina in a 55-10 rout. Consecutive close losses to Florida and Arkansas put the Volunteers season in doubt. A win against Georgia got Tennessee back to .500 for the season, before Alabama handed them yet another close loss as the Vols fell 19-14 to the Razorbacks. It would be the last loss for Tennessee, as the Volunteers fought their way to five straight victories to end the season 8-4.

The Match Up
Northwestern comes into the game with two wins and two losses over teams ranked in the top 30 which includes a victory over a top ten team, Stanford. Tennessee on the other hand is 1-4 against teams in the top 30 and 0-2 against teams in the top 10. Both teams had a comparable strength of schedule; Tennessee ranked 40th and Northwestern ranked 45th.

Statistically, the Volunteers enter the game, ranked 50th in total offense. Tennessee ranks 20th in rushing offense averaging 223.5 yards per game and ranks 92nd in passing offense with 199 yards a game. Defensively, the Vols rank 49th in rushing defense and 59th in passing yards allowed for a total defensive ranking of 45th in the nation. The Wildcats, on the other hand come into the game with the 37th ranked rushing offense, with 193.3 average yards per game, and 119th in passing offense, with an average of 139 yards per game, for a total offensive ranking of 114th. However, Northwestern’s strength is defense and they rank 11th in the country in total defense. The Wildcats rank 13th in rushing defense and 25th in passing defense. This mismatch of styles should make for an interesting game. Northwestern has an obvious edge defensively, but averages only 20.5 points per game offensively. Tennessee on the other hand, averages 34 points a game but has a somewhat average defense.

Northwestern is led by QB Clayton Thorson, who has thrown for 1465 yards and seven touchdowns but also has seven interceptions on the year and a completion percentage of 51.6%. However, Thorson is also second on the team in rushing yards with 374 yards on the season and five TDs. RB Justin Jackson leads the Wildcats ground game with 1344 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 4.5 yards a carry. Indicative of Northwestern’s run heavy offensive scheme, top WR Dan Vitale has 33 receptions for 355 yards and four TDs.

The Volunteers QB is Joshua Dobbs who has 2,125 yards and 15 TDs with just five interceptions. Additionally, Dobbs is third on the team in rushing with 623 yards and nine TDs. RB Jalen Hurd will get the lion’s share of the carries for Tennessee after finishing the regular season with 1,158 yards and 11 TDs. The top receiver for the Vols is Josh Malone who has 388 yards and two TDs on the season.

The difference in this game comes down to offense. Tennessee has scored 27 rushing and 17 passing touchdowns on the season. Northwestern has only scored 15 rushing and 8 passing TDs on the year.   Northwestern wins with defense, but in a shooting match has not shown the ability to outscore an opponent. Tennessee on the other hand can put up points but has a problem finishing games when up against teams with powerful offenses. Given this and barring mistakes and turnovers by either team affecting the result, look for Tennessee to take this one by putting points on the board and mustering just enough defense to hold on for the win.

Prediction: Tennessee 28 – Northwestern 21