Only one other remaining bowl offers a spread as asymmetrical as Friday’s Music City (+10; Orange Bowl); needless to say, Kentucky strolls into Nashville/Hop-town facing quite the daunting task. Our Wildcats have proven their capability this season, and their resolve, as well. It was a fun season to say the least, as Kentucky proved their offensive muscle was capable of flexing on just about anyone’s watch. En route to leading the SEC in passing yards and passing touchdowns, QB Andre’ Woodson emerged from his timid cocoon of yesteryear to become an elite college gun-slinger. The Marty Jannetty to Woodson’s Shawn Michaels, WR Keenan Burton, was finally blessed with a season of health to fully showcase his NFL caliber skill. Couple that with the surfacing of the once-exiled Dickey Lyons, Jr. (DLJ to the out of loopers), the shimmy of handyman Rafael Little, and Commonwealth was graced with an exceptionally potent offense this season. Then, there’s da D…or whatever you call that kind of thing. Down there, at #118, wedged between behemoths like Temple and Louisiana Tech, you’ll find Kentucky’s total defense ranking. Through the 411 passing yards forfeited to Central Michigan, and the 351 rushing yards at the wily feet of Louisiana-Monroe, D-coordinator Mike Archer managed to keep his job (and a nice Christmas bonus to boot). As porous as the D has been this year, UK fans trekked through the Holiday season with an unfamiliar sweet taste in their mouths. As agonizing as Kentucky’s loss to Tennessee indeed was, Archer and Co. showed us that they are capable of the occasional 3 and out. Yet, even with these glaring stats of mediocrity, Kentucky lead the SEC in turnovers gained. Stunning when you think about it, but probably the only reason UK’s season didn’t end on the checkered turf of Neyland.
It’s clear that in terms of sheer talent, Clemson is a Benz to UK’s Volvo. But as the FSU’s, Miami’s, and UGA’s have recently reaffirmed, games are more than .40 yard dashes and bench-press competitions. Motivation. Kentucky and us fans are treating this like the Super Bowl, as the grueling trudge through probation has been both symbolically, and tangibly conquered. Kentucky took care of business at the right time, and comes in hot, winners of 5 of their last six. Like Kentucky, Clemson was not supposed to be here. Simply put, Clemson looks at this bowl as the fat chick tagged for prey by the Turkey Hunter. Can Bowden rally his troops? Does Bowden even care enough to rally his troops? We’ll have to wait and find out, but the one known truth is that UK is happier than white trash at Kings Island, while Clemson is the impatient businessman in charge of keeping 5 restless kids entertained with roller-coasters and funnel cakes.
My take: What a matchup: Kentucky’s sterling offense vs. Clemson’s steely defense. UK has proven they can move the sticks against the best of ‘em, and come in with massive shoulder chips and assured confidence. With their coach freshly inked, their fans overwhelming the stadium, and oh yeah, the first trip to the postseason in seven years, Kentucky could warm-up to “Tears in Heaven” and still be frothing to go. But where the Cats have the motivation edge, they’ll still have to find a way to contain Davis and Spiller…and I don’t think they have the horses to do it for 4 quarters. Archer’s best bet is to put at 8 in the box and hope Proctor can’t pick apart single coverage. On the other hand, the Tigers will face an aerial attack of the likes they have yet to see this year. Kentucky’s shaky O-line has to play big, with the likes of Adams lurking the trenches and speedy LB’s blitzing and keying the pass. No doubt, this is a shootout. If UK can force a couple of TO’s, and maybe get a big play on special teams, they can win. They can also lose, and lose big. I’ll say Clemson 38 Kentucky 27