Tigers ready for Wildcats

NASHVILLE - Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and Kentucky coach Rich Brooks each spoke kindly of their opponent before members of the media in the 2009 Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl coaches' press conference on Saturday.

"(Kentucky has) had an outstanding year," Swinney said. "They're a couple of plays away from winning 10-plus ball games. They're a very physical team. If you had to characterize them in one word, I'd say, physical."

"We're playing a first-class team in Clemson," Brooks said.

"They're like every other team we've been playing in our league up front--big, physical, fast, talented. They tackle very well and cover very well on the backend."

The Tigers (8-5) take on the Wildcats (7-5) at 8:30 p.m. Sunday night before a national television audience on ESPN. It's the only bowl game on the docket for Sunday.

Brooks said Kentucky has been charged with the unenviable task of slowing C.J. Spiller and must account for where "No. 28 is on the football field" at all times.

"We're looking forward to the opportunity to try and slow down C.J. Spiller--really not looking forward to it, to be honest with you," he said.

Swinney was succinct in comparing the team's best play-makers, comparing Kentucky's use of Cobb in the same way Clemson uses Spiller.

"He throws touchdowns, rushes touchdowns, returns touchdowns--he does a little bit of everything…the thing that jumps out to me is he's a winner," Swinney said.

This season, Brooks said Kentucky's offense has struggled since starting quarterback Mike Hartline went down with a knee injury against South Carolina.

"We've had to become a little bit more multifaceted on offense with the addition of Randall Cobb in the wildcat formation," Brooks said.

Though Morgan Newton will start the game at quarterback, Hartline is expected to take snaps from under center against Clemson.

"He's rusty, I would think, a little bit. He's back to where we feel confident physically and go into the game to play," Brooks said.

Newton's performance in his last outing was described as, "not very good" by Brooks.

"In my opinion, it was probably his worst game of the year against Tennessee," Brooks said. "We'll see if he's responded and learned from that. I know he's focused and has done some good things in practice. It has to carry forward to the game for that to be made clear in my mind."

Playing in temperatures that could be close to freezing, both coaches offered concern over protecting the football. Swinney said taking care of the football is a factor every week, no matter what kind of weather conditions are expected.

"The reason we won our division is because we were one of the better teams in the country at taking the ball and keeping it on offense," he said.

In the 2006 game, field conditions at LP Field were bad. Both coaches agreed that this year's game will have a better playing surface.

"It's Augusta National compared to what it was a few years ago," Swinney said.

Brooks hopes with each Wildcats' punt, pass and kick, the wind is at their back. When Kentucky does punt and kick, some will be in Spiller's direction, and some won't.

"Hopefully when we kick it to them, it won't be a disaster," Brooks said. "You're always taking a chance. But you could also have a disaster when you kick it away from them."

Four Clemson players have been suspended for the game because they missed curfew. Jamie Cumbie, Rennie Moore, Durrell Barry and Kyle Johnson are still with the team, but will not dress.

After two days of practice in Nashville, Clemson will close preparation with an indoor walk-through later Saturday afternoon.

"We've got our hands full with these guys. It is two good football teams. I think it's one of the better bowl matchups out there in this bowl season," Swinney said.


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