Bowl games are supposed to be wild.

They’re supposed to consume all of our attention in the middle of a random weekday afternoon when we’re all in that post-Christmas, pre-New Year’s Eve state of zero productivity. They’re supposed to have trick plays and wild finishes. They’re supposed to give anyone who appreciates college football a reason to watch two teams who they’ve likely never seen play.

Friday’s Music City Bowl had all the entertainment value necessary, albeit for all the wrong reasons. For both Kentucky and Northwestern fans, there were about four moments on Friday that made them think the same thought.

What in the WORLD is going on?

The Music City Bowl lacked flow, and for much of it, it lacked organization. It was a poorly-officiated, bizarrely-coached mess that we couldn’t turn away from. It was equal parts frustrating and entertaining.

Despite all of that, Northwestern found a way to pick up its second consecutive bowl victory. For the Wildcats, their 10th win of the season was the only closing note that mattered. It gave them their third double-digit win season in six years, which is pretty impressive considering Northwestern had just one such year in the previous 100.

Looking at all the factors working against Northwestern on Friday, that was a minor miracle.

Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

For a neutral fan watching that game, one might’ve even forgotten the bizarre fashion that the game started. Clayton Thorson appeared to make what looked like a nice catch and run on a halfback pass. But replay showed that the Northwestern quarterback suffered what looked to be a serious knee injury.

Usually if a quarterback gets hurt, it’s because he doesn’t see a weak-side blitzer or he scrambles and takes a big hit. I don’t recall ever seeing a quarterback get injured after catching a halfback pass.

Pat Fitzgerald rolled the dice then, and he rolled the dice some more later on. Big time.

On 4th and 1 at the Kentucky goal line up 17-14 in the middle of the fourth quarter, Northwestern attempted another gadget play. It again had an awful final result, though for a different reason. Running a reverse pass in that spot — with the No. 10 rusher in college football history on your team — was odd. Of course it ended horribly.

Still, Fitzgerald stood by his decision.

Lucky for Fitzgerald, Kyle Queiro pulled off a pick-six on the ensuing Kentucky possession to give Northwestern that touchdown back.

Ah, but Fitzgerald’s bizarre fourth-down calls didn’t stop there. With two and a half minutes left at their own 40-yard line in a 24-17 game, Fitzgerald elected to go for it on 4th and 1. Never mind the fact that Kentucky’s offense hadn’t done much of anything all game. It was a bowl game, so why not?

Yeah, that didn’t work out, either. For once, a quarterback sneak was stuffed on 4th and 1. And of course, Kentucky reached pay dirt a few plays later.

Lucky for Fitzgerald again, his aggressiveness was matched by Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, who came up short on the two-point conversation attempt that would’ve essentially won the game.

Fitzgerald got another lucky break, though he definitely shouldn’t have.

Let’s just call it what it was. The Benny Snell call was atrocious. It was an embarrassment. To think that that call was made on anyone — much less one of the more valuable players in college football — was just wrong. In case you missed it, here was what got the Kentucky tailback ejected:


And no, the official confirmed that Snell didn’t say anything that warranted the ejection (“illegal touching of an official” was the call). If you told Fitzgerald that he would get to face Kentucky without its best player for basically three quarters, he would’ve taken it all day, every day.

Northwestern actually got another bounce to go its way when Joe Gaziano drove Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson to the ground out of bounds…and there was no flag. Johnson then went to the locker room with a shoulder injury because of that hit and had some, um, choice words for the officiating crew.

Do you blame him?

Maybe the officials felt like Kentucky was owed a makeup call. That would explain why Northwestern’s best linebacker, Paddy Fisher, was ejected for targeting on what Pat Fitzgerald called “one of the worst calls he’d ever seen in college football.” If that was a makeup call, it wasn’t received as one.

Both fan bases had reasons to be frustrated in this one. It was a reminder that officials can make a big impact on a game if they so choose. In the case of Friday night’s debacle, it wasn’t a positive impact.

Players were ejected and hurt in situations that they shouldn’t have been in. Fans will likely talk about that more than their coach’s failed gambles down the stretch because that’s the nature of the sport. Even Fitzgerald wasn’t shy about criticizing the officiating.

What Fitzgerald also said was that “words couldn’t describe that game.” He was right.

I guess I’ll stop trying.