SportsPac12: Utah-Northwestern Holiday Bowl Preview
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Utah-Northwestern Holiday Bowl Preview

December 30, 2018

The Utes are making their first Holiday Bowl appearance against Northwestern.

Utah vs. Northwestern: Holiday Bowl Details, Prediction, and Preview


#17 Utah (9-4, 6-3) vs #22 Northwestern (8-5, 8-1)
Monday, December 31, 4:00 p.m. PT, FS1
SDCCU Stadium, San Diego, CA

Straight-Up: Utah in a Close Win
Against the Spread: Utah  (-7.5)

The Utes won their first South Division Championship this season since joining the Conference, coming just a few plays short of playing in the Rose Bowl. And they did it without their starting quarterback, Tyler Huntley. 

Huntley may be back for Northwestern, but Utah coach Kyle Whittingham hasn't been anxious to reveal his cards. The dual-threat junior averaged 245.2 yards total offense per game and accounted for 15 touchdowns before injuring his shoulder against ASU, and would likely be the difference-maker. 

The Utes also lost running back Zack Moss, but Armand Shyne has performed well in his absence, averaging 78.3 yards per game in four starts. Leading wideout Britain Covey will also miss the Holiday Bowl. 

Converted safety Chance Hansen anchors the defense for Utah, ranking seventh-best nationally with 22 tackles for a loss, and 114 total tackles to go with his five sacs and two interceptions.

Like the Utes, who went 2-2 before winning seven of their last eight regular-season games, the Wildcats started slow, going 1-3 before winning seven of their last eight. That stretch included victories over then-nationally ranked Michigan State and Iowa, culminating in a 45-24 loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game.

On offense, Northwestern is led by senior quarterback Clayton Thorson, who averaged 226.3 yards per game, and threw for 15 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. Freshman running back Isaiah Bowser contributed 88.4 yards per contest to an offense that finished 12th in the 14-team Conference in scoring and total offense. 

The Wildcat defense fared better than the offense behind linebacker Blake Gallagher's 112 tackles and lineman Joe Gaziano's six sacks, ranking fifth in the Big Ten in scoring defense and fourth in rushing yards allowed.

Given the defensive strength of both teams, the game isn't likely to produce a lot of fireworks on offense. Look for the Utes to wear the Wildcats down in a close game decided by lapses and turnovers.

Against the Spread

  • Utes are 6-1 ATS in their last 7 vs. Big Ten
  • Utes are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 Bowl games
  • Utes are 7-2 ATS in their last 9 games on grass
  • Utes are 10-4 ATS in their last 14 neutral site games
  • Wildcats are 3-1-2 ATS in their last 6 games on grass
  • Wildcats are 4-1-1 ATS vs. a team with a winning record.
  • Wildcats are 13-6-2 ATS in their last 21 games overall
  • Wildcats are 0-3-1 ATS in their last 4 non-conference games

                      Notes: The all-time series between the two teams is tied 1-1, with Utah winning the last meeting 42-0 in 1981. The Utes are 10-8 in all games against Big Ten teams, and 3-0 in the 2010s.

                      Both teams are making their first appearance in the Holiday Bowl. The Utes have won 14 of their last 15 bowl games. The Wildcats have lost 10 of their last 13, but won the last two. Whittingham is 11-1 in bowl games, and his 91% winning percentage is the best in NCAA history.

                      Utah is 17-4 all-time in bowl games, and 5-0 in the Pac-12 Era, with wins over Georgia Tech, Colorado State, BYU, Indiana, and West Virginia.

                      utahKEY STATS and INFOnorthwestern
                      Pac-12 SouthConferenceBig Ten
                      17CFP Committee Ranking22
                      28.7Points per Game23.7
                      18.5Points Allowed23.5
                      396Yards per Game357
                      209.2Passing Yards per Game239.3
                      186.8Rushing Yards per Game117.5
                      101.8Rushing Yards Allowed per Game132.6
                      213.3Passing Yards Allowed per Game258.1
                      315Yards Allowed per Game391
                      Tyler Huntley
                      1,788 yards (12 TDS, 6 INTS)
                      Passing Yardage and TD LeadersClayton Thorson
                      2,942 yards (15 TDs, 14 INTs)
                      Zack Moss
                      1,092 yards, 11 TDs
                      Rushing LeadersIsaiah Bowser
                      796 yards, 6 TDs
                      Britain Covey
                      637 yards, 1 TDs
                      Receiving LeadersFlynn Nagel
                      759 yards, 2 TDs
                      Chase Hansen
                      114 total tackles
                      Defensive LeadersBlake Gallagher
                      120 total tackles

                      Remaining Pac-12 Bowl Game Schedule

                      —Monday, December 31—
                      Sun: Stanford vs Pitt
                      Redbox: Oregon vs. Michigan State
                      Holiday: Utah vs. Northwestern

                      —Tuesday, January 1—
                      Rose: Washington vs. Ohio State