Scouting Kentucky

If the folks who run the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl really want a night's entertainment from Clemson and Kentucky, they should arrange to forget about plays from scrimmage and just let the two fight it out on special teams.

The teams that will meet Dec. 27 in Nashville both feature electrifying return games.

For Clemson, C.J. Spiller is fourth in the country in kickoff returns, averaging 34 yards an attempt. He has run back four for touchdowns.

For Kentucky, Derrick Locke is averaging just under 30 yards per return and ranks eighth in the country. He has a 100-yard run-back for a score.

His teammate, Randall Cobb, doesn't have enough attempts to qualify for the rankings, but he is averaging better than 26 yards a try on his 13 kickoff returns.

Spiller hasn't run back enough punts to qualify for national rankings in that category, but he has averaged better than 26 yards on eight returns with a 77-yarder for a touchdown.

Spiller's teammate, Jacoby Ford, is averaging 14 yards and has taken one of his 10 punt returns back for a touchdown.

Cobb ranks 15th in the country in punt returns with his average of better than 13 yards, including a 73-yarder for a touchdown.

No doubt the pressure is going to be on the kickers (Dawson Zimmerman on punts and Spencer Benton on kickoffs for Clemson, Ryan Tydlacka on punts and Craig McIntosh on kickoffs for Kentucky) to keep the ball away from those guys. Doing the better job of that could decide the game.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Tigers were one of the better running teams in the ACC during the season, averaging about 157 yards a game to rank third in the league. QB Kyle Parker, a redshirt freshman, became more effective passing as the season wore on, but the main weapons offensively were RB C.J. Spiller and WR Jacoby Ford. Both could break big plays in the running and passing game. TE Michael Palmer also had a big year.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Clemson never figured out how to stop Georgia Tech's run, but overall the Tigers didn't fare all that badly. They were fourth in the league in stopping the run, giving up 135 yards to opposing rushers, and second in the league against the pass (169 a game). Their 21 interceptions tied for third in the country, and their 34 sacks led the ACC.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Clemson DE DaQuan Bowers vs. Kentucky OLT Zipp Duncan -- Bowers is rounding back into shape after missing two games with an injury. He had 11 tackles for loss for the Tigers.

OTHER KEY MATCHUPS: Clemson's defense/special teams vs. Kentucky WR/KR Randall Cobb -- A sophomore, Cobb led Kentucky in receiving with 37 catches for 427 yards and four touchdowns, and he also ran for 537 yards taking snaps in Kentucky's "Wildcat" formation. He is averaging 13.5 yards on punt returns and 26.5 running back kickoffs, so the Tigers' coverage teams as well as the defensive unit will face a challenge.

Clemson RB C.J. Spiller vs. Kentucky's linebackers -- Spiller was nearly uncontainable in the ACC championship game, running for a career-best 233 yards and scoring four touchdowns. Kentucky gave up 183 yards a game rushing in the regular season, ranking only No. 100 out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams against the run. Like Cobb for the Wildcats, Spiller also will test Kentucky's kick coverage. He ranks fourth in the country in all-purpose yards (193 a game).

Clemson QB Kyle Parker vs. Kentucky's secondary -- Parker became more consistent and made better choices as the season wore on, but he still threw 12 interceptions, including nine over the last five games. Kentucky has 16 interceptions on the season, but six were by LB Sam Maxwell, who will miss the bowl after having shoulder surgery. SS Calvin Harrison has three interceptions for the Wildcats, and CB Randall Burden has two. Top Stories