The Final Breakdown

NASHVILLE - Clemson and Kentucky last met in the 2006 Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl with the Wildcats coming out on top 28-20.

WHAT: Clemson vs. Kentucky, Music City Bowl
WHERE: LP Field (68,798) - Nashville, TN
WHEN: Sunday, December, 27, 2009 (7:30 PM, CST)
SPREAD: Clemson favored by 6.5
TV: ESPN

Three years later, both teams are significantly different but there are two players who scored touchdowns in the 2006 game that will be playing one more time for their respective schools Sunday night at L.P. Field.

Kentucky middle linebacker Micah Johnson scored the game's opening touchdown as a running back. Oddly enough, he was named to the SEC All-Freshman team that season for his play on defense.

Clemson tight end Durrell Barry also scored the ensuing touchdown on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Will Proctor. And most Clemson fans will remember C.J. Spiller rushing only five times for 24 yards.

Since then, Johnson has been named to several all-conference teams as a junior and senior, Barry is now the Tigers' third tight end. And of course, Spiller is likely to eclipse the five carry mark way sometime during the first quarter on Sunday.

Clemson enters this year's bowl with an 8-5 record, coming off a 39-34 loss to Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship. Kentucky is 7-5 after finishing fourth in the SEC East.

Here's one last look at the matchups that will determine who walks away from the Music City Bowl with a win:

KENTUCKY RUSHING VS. CLEMSON FRONT SEVEN
Kentucky's biggest threat to Clemson's front seven will be wide receiver Randall Cobb when he's running the Wildcat's "WildCobb" formation. He is second on the team in rushing, averages 6.4 yards per carry and has scored 10 rushing touchdowns in 12 games this season. Leading rusher Derrick Locke has been banged up like Spiller, but instead of a toe, he's got a pair of aching knees. Sitting on 844 yards with six touchdowns, Locke should benefit from a month-long break in Sunday's game.

Behind All-SEC second-team offensive tackle Zipp Duncan, Cobb and Locke lead a rushing attack that averages 193 yards per game.


Kentucky's biggest threat to the Clemson front seven will be wide receiver Randall Cobb when he's running the Wildcat's "WildCobb" formation. He is second on the team in rushing, averages 6.4 yards per carry and has scored 10 rushing touchdowns in 12 games. (Getty Images)
Brandon Maye has been the center of attention in the questions surrounding Clemson's run defense the second half of the season, and especially in the last two games. The Tigers gave up a total of 556 yards to South Carolina and then to Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship a week later. In the first 11 games, the total was 1,398.

The body of work doesn't spell all doom and gloom in the matchup, but it certainly makes it more intriguing.

Maye's taken on a big role this season under first-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. Essentially the quarterback of the defense, Maye should benefit from two weeks of tutelage under Steele.

If Maye remains disciplined in his assignments and defensive tackles Jarvis Jenkins and Brandon Thompson keep Kentucky's interior lineman out of his face, he, Kavell Conner and Kevin Alexander should be able to meet Cobb and Locke head-on at the line of scrimmage. The Tigers also have Da'Quan Bowers, who continued to be a stout run stopper during the ACC title game, making 11 tackles.

Kentucky's five biggest rushing outputs (highest to lowest) came against Vanderbilt, Auburn, Miami (Ohio), Eastern Kentucky and South Carolina, not exactly the top teams in the country against the run, but the Gamecocks proved to be certainly formidable, giving up an average of 137 on the ground. By comparison, Clemson's run defense gives up an average of 150 yards.

Wildcat formations and quarterback runs have been a thorn in the Tigers' side all season. In more recent games, Virginia and South Carolina saw success out of the wildcat, scoring on the only drives each team lined up in the formation. Even less mobile quarterbacks, Texas Christian's Andy Dalton and Maryland's Chris Turner had success early in the season with the zone read.

It's likely that the Wildcats will show their fair share of sets from the formation with plenty of zone reads by Cobb, and he should be productive given Clemson's struggles here most of the season.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON RUSHING VS. KENTUCKY FRONT SEVEN
Not that he needs a chip on his shoulder for not being invited to New York, but if C.J. Spiller runs with the purpose he did against Georgia Tech, Clemson's run game should put up high numbers against a Kentucky defense that gives up an average of 183 yards per contest on the ground.


Not that he needs a chip on his shoulder for not being invited to New York, but if Spiller runs with the purpose he did against Georgia Tech, Clemson's run game should put up high numbers against a Kentucky defense that gives up an average of 183 yards per contest on the ground. (Kevin Bray)
Spiller has rushed for 1,145 yards and 11 touchdowns and he's complimented by Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington have combined to rush for over 800 yards and seven touchdowns.

Jacoby Ford is good for a rushing attempt per game too, averaging 7.1 yards per carry. He's scored two rushing touchdowns.

The Tigers' run game didn't score a touchdown through the first three games this season, but had 22 in the other 10. Clemson is 3-4 when scoring one or no rushing touchdowns while Kentucky is 6-1 in games when the defense has given up one or fewer rushing touchdowns.

Coaches voted defensive tackle Corey Peters to the All-SEC first-team while Micah Johnson was voted to the second-team by coaches and media.

This being the final game in his decorated Clemson career, Spiller should account for plenty of production on the ground, giving a decided advantage to the Tigers here.

ADVANTAGE:

KENTUCKY PASSING GAME VS. CLEMSON SECONDARY/PASS RUSH
No Kentucky quarterback has taken a snap under center in every game this season. Freshman quarterback Morgan Newton will make his eighth consecutive start since Mike Hartline went down with a knee injury against South Carolina.

Newton, a former five-star quarterback who was recruited heavily by Clemson two years ago, has started the last seven games, during which the Wildcats are 5-2. He's completed 62-of-112 passes for 608 yards with three interceptions and five touchdowns. Hartline has taken snaps during bowl practice, but it's uncertain how many, if any snaps he'll get in the game. He remains the team's top passer, having completed 79-of-133 passes for 802 yards and six touchdowns.


No Kentucky quarterback has taken a snap under center in every game this season. Freshman quarterback Morgan Newton will make his eighth consecutive start since Mike Hartline went down with a knee injury against South Carolina. (Getty Images)
Cobb is the Wildcats' top threat catching the ball and leads the team in all receiving categories. He's made 37 receptions for 427 yards and four touchdowns.

At 6-5, Chris Matthews is as Kentucky's second leading receiver: 31 receptions for 337 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Locke is also a threat catching the ball; his 25 receptions for 254 yards are both third best on the team.

Leading the way in the Clemson secondary are safeties DeAndre McDaniel and Rashard Hall, who have combined for 14 interceptions this season. Clemson's pass defense overall ranks just outside the top 10 in the country, giving up 167 yards per game.

Ricky Sapp leads the Tiger defense in sacks with five. Bowers and Maye each have three. As a team, Clemson averages 2.6 sacks a game while Kentucky's offensive line yields an average of 1.25 per game.

Through the first four games of the season, the Wildcats threw at least 28 times in each contest. Since Hartline went down with an injury in the fifth game against South Carolina, Kentucky has averaged just 22 passing attempts per game.

If Clemson leads late in the game, the advantage should hang in the Tigers' favor.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON PASSING GAME VS. KENTUCKY SECONDARY/PASS RUSH
Missing from the linebacking corps is strong-side linebacker Sam Maxwell, who was voted to the conference's second-team by the media, after undergoing shoulder surgery.


Like Clemson, Kentucky's pass defense ranks near the nation's top 10. The Wildcats give up an average of 180 yards per game through the air which could make things difficult for Clemson QB Kyle Parker. (Roy Philpott)
Jacob Dufrene, who has played mostly on special teams, will start for Maxwell and leads the Wildcats with six interceptions and is second in tackles with 80. Maxwell's absence should allow tight ends Michael Palmer and Dwayne Allen plenty of room to operate in the middle of the field.

Palmer is Clemson's second leading pass catcher with 41 receptions and is tied for second with four touchdown catches. Allen has gotten off to a respectable start to his career with 10 receptions for 108 yards and three touchdowns.

The individual matchup of Kentucky cornerback Trevard Lindley and Ford is among the most intriguing in the game. Though Lindley has missed four games this season, he has one interception and led the team with nine pass breakups. Ford has 53 receptions for 735 yards and five touchdowns.

Like Clemson, Kentucky's pass defense ranks near the nation's top 10. The Wildcats give up an average of 180 yards per game through the air. The pass rush is a different story.

Defensive tackle DeQuin Evans has teamed up with end Corey Peters for 10 of the team's 16 sacks. Kentucky isn't in the nation's top 100 in sacks per game, averaging 1.3 per contest.

Though Kyle Parker may not be able to find open wide receivers, Palmer and Allen could find themselves on the receiving end of plenty of his passes.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON SPECIAL TEAMS VS. KENTUCKY SPECIAL TEAMS
Spiller and Ford have one more game together as the nation's top return duos but Locke and Cobb form a formidable return pair as well. While Spiller averages 33.7 yards per kick return, Locke averages 29.6. Spiller has more touchdowns (4-1). Cobb's kickoff return average is 26.5, greater than Ford's 19.3

Cobb averages 13.5 yards per punt return, having returned one for touchdown. Spiller averages 26.3 per punt return, including one for touchdown. Also with a punt return for touchdown, Ford's average is 14.3.

Lones Seiber kicked for Kentucky in the Music City Bowl in 2006, making all four of his extra-point attempts. This season, he's hit 9-of-14 field goal attempts.

Richard Jackson is 20-for-30 on field goals this season, averaging 1.54 makes a game.

ADVANTAGE:

PREDICTION: CLEMSON 33 KENTUCKY 23

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