5 questions for bowl practice

CLEMSON - The Tigers begin preparations for the Music City Bowl and the Kentucky Wildcats Tuesday.

#1. Where is this team mentally?
Every Clemson fan remembers what happened three years ago when the Tigers travelled to the Music City Bowl - the team came out flat and was dominated by an undermanned Kentucky team. Will the same thing happen again in 2009? Nashville isn't a bad location for a bowl game, but let's be honest, expectations were much higher than this given the fact Clemson played in the ACC Championship game. Dabo Swinney has done a solid job rallying the troops at various points this season and he'll have to do it again if the Tigers are going to avoid being flat in a bowl game they simply don't want to be in.

#2. Which red-shirt freshmen will stand out?
The Clemson coaching staff will not only use the next 12 days to prepare for Kentucky, it will also allow the younger players on the roster to take a more prominent role in selected practices. That means players like Corico Hawkins, Quandon Christian, Bryce McNeal and Tajh Boyd will all get an opportunity to showcase their skills in scrimmage-type settings. Boyd is expected to contend for playing time as early as next season, but what about McNeal and Christian? Both players redshirted this past season but both will be stepping into positions of need at wide receiver and linebacker respectively.


Where did the time go? Just 12 days remains in C.J. Spiller's Clemson career but the future first-round draft pick figures to be as healthy as he's been all season for the Music City Bowl. (Roy Philpott)
#3. Can Clemson stop the run?
Truthfully, Clemson's defense wasn't the same after the Wake Forest game, giving up 37, 24, 23, 21, 34 and 39 points against FBS opponents to end the season. Complicating matters is the fact that teams were consistently able to establish the run- especially at the quarterback position. Kentucky, of course, will present a host of problems in the ground game, especially running the Wildcat package with do-it-all threat Randall Cobb in the backfield. Simply put, Clemson will not win this game unless it limits the Wildcats' explosive rushing attack, which currently ranks 21st in the nation. Remember, Kentucky didn't beat Georgia and Auburn on the road this year because it was lucky, the Wildcats were actually the better team. The Tigers have to do a better job stopping the run if they were going to win this one.

#4. Will C.J. Spiller be 100 percent?
It's amazing to think about Spiller was able to accomplish this year with a turf toe - over 1,100 yards rushing, not to mention all the special teams touchdowns and big plays in the passing game that helped lift the Tigers to an Atlantic Division Championship. Spiller will continue to rest his toe over the course of the next 10 days and figures to be as close to 100 percent as he's been all year when the Tigers take the field in Nashville. It would be an understatment to suggest Clemson will need every ounce of energy he has - especially if the struggles continue in stopping the running game.

#5. Will the linebackers come to play?
No one can fault the effort of Kavell Conner and Brandon Maye. More times than not, these guys are around the ball making countless number of tackles for four quarters. Where their play can improve, however, is with their technique. Fighting off blockers, wrapping up more consistently and driving ball carriers backwards after making initial contact will be critical in facing Kentucky. The talent is there for this to be a quality unit, but the consistency has been lacking the second half of the season. That aspect of the defense has to improve in order for Clemson to avoid the upset.

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