2009 Liberty Bowl Preview - UK vs. ECU
UK's Trevard Lindley & ECU's Zack Slate
UK's Trevard Lindley & ECU's Zack Slate
Posted Dec 20, 2008

Kentucky vs. East Carolina - The 2009 AutoZone Liberty Bowl Preview & Prediction

2009 Liberty Bowl

Texas Tech (11-1) vs. Ole Miss (8-4)

Jan. 2, 5:00 p.m. ET, ESPN

Payout: $1.3 million   Location: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis TN

- 2009 Liberty Bowl Player Profiles, Histories & More

National Rankings
East Carolina Kentucky
Total Offense
83rd  336 ypg 105th  298.42 ypg
Total Defense
43rd  334.77 ypg 34th  327 ypg
Scoring Offense
79th  23.77 ppg 87th  22.42 ppg
Scoring Defense
31st  20.77 ppg 38th  21.67 ppg
Run Offense
83rd  128.31 ypg 78th  129.25 ypg
Run Defense
52nd  138.08 ypg 66th  142.42 ypg
Pass Offense
64th  207.69 ypg 98th  169.17 ypg
Pass Defense
48th  196.69 ypg 28th  184.58  ypg
Turnover Margin
41st  0.38 34th  0.42
East Carolina
Va Tech W 27-22
West Va W 24-3
at Tulane W 28-24
at NC St L 30-24 OT
Houston L 41-24
at Virginia L 35-20
Memphis W 30-10
at UCF W 13-10 OT
Marsh. W 19-16 OT
at So Miss L 21-3
at UAB W 17-13
UTEP W 53-21
C-USA Champ.
Tulsa W 27-24
at Louisville W 27-2
Norfolk St W 38-3
Middle Tenn W 20-14
Western Kent W 41-3
at Alabama L 17-14
So Carolina L 24-17
Arkansas W 21-20
at Florida L 63-5
at Miss St W 14-13
Georgia L 42-38
Vanderbilt L 31-24
at Tenn L 28-10
Position Ratings
relative to each other
ECU 5 highest
1 lowest
3.5 Quarterbacks 3
2.5 RBs 3
3 Receivers 2.5
3.5 O Line 4
4 D Line 4.5
4 Linebackers 4
4 Secondary 4
4 Spec Teams 3.5
4 Coaching 4

It’s a stretch to say the SEC has dominated the Liberty Bowl since becoming a regular part of the show, but it’s been able to win two straight to put down the Conference USA champion. At some point, if Conference USA wants to take a step up as a league, it’s best team has to prove it can beat a mediocre SEC also-ran.

Mississippi State shut down UCF last year in a defensive slugfest, and South Carolina beat Houston in a shootout two years ago. This year’s game should be somewhere in between.
The SEC was down this year compared to past seasons, but while some teams like Auburn, Tennessee, and LSU underachieved, Kentucky was a bit of a stunner in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. On the other side, East Carolina was considered a sleeper for the Conference USA title before the season began, and then grew into a possible BCS buster.
The Pirates were the story of the first three weeks after stunning Virginia Tech with a blocked punt for a score and by throttling West Virginia on the way to a 3-0 start. But the offensive efficiency stopped, the defense stopped coming up clutch, and bandwagon came to a crashing halt with three straight losses. But very quietly the team rebounded in a big way.

A 21-3 loss at Southern Miss was the only black mark in a strong second half run of five wins in six games to lead the way to the Conference USA title game. It wasn’t an impressive string of games, two of the wins were in overtime over league lightweights UCF and Marshall, and there was a four-point win over UAB, but wins were wins. And then came the showdown against Tulsa with the defense forcing seven turnovers on the way to the 27-24 win to bring the season full circle. While that was great, a win over Kentucky might be even bigger for the team and the conference.

Kentucky’s season went from being one of rebuilding to one of what might have been. The offense struggled all season long, but it proved to be good enough to beat the mediocre teams. The real stars turned out to be on the defense as the Wildcats allowed just two touchdowns in the first four games, and led the nation in scoring defense, and then came the impressive 17-14 loss to Alabama that gave the team a measure of respect, even in defeat. And then the injuries came, the defense became a shadow of its September self, and the second half of the season became a struggle losing four of the last five games. How close were the Wildcats from missing a bowl game? Two points. They beat Mississippi State 14-13 and Arkansas 21-20. Had those two gone the other way, UK would’ve lost its final eight games of the year.

The Liberty Bowl will get a nice Friday afternoon slot between a good Cotton Bowl (Texas Tech vs. Ole Miss) and the Fiesta Bowl (Texas vs. Ohio State). It’ll be a showcase for both teams and both programs, and it’ll be a jumping off point for the winner to what should be a strong 2009.
Players to watch: Kentucky came into the season expecting to have former star recruit Curtis Pulley replace star QB Andre Woodson, but he was booted off the team. Mike Hartline took over, and while he wasn’t anything special, he wasn’t all that bad over the first half of the season. However, the team wasn’t winning and Hartline was starting to throw picks, with seven in a five-game stretch. In came Randall Cobb, a true freshman who was starting to get used to a role as a receiver, highlighted by a two touchdown day against Arkansas. Slowly, he started to get a little big of work at quarterback, and he added a spark with three touchdown runs against Georgia and a decent day in the win over Arkansas. The problem? He’s been a good passer, but he’s a runner. Against ECU, the offense will try to use both Hartline and Cobb as much as possible, and will likely use Cobb as a runner, receiver, and an occasional passer.
East Carolina’s offense revolved around the ultra-efficient play of QB Patrick Pinkney early on completing 41-of-51 passes in his first two games and 63-of-83 passes with four touchdowns and just one interception, with a rushing score, in his first three games. While he had some down moments on the year, he threw two interceptions against both Southern Miss and UAB, he still showed flashes of effectiveness throughout the year using short, easy passes to keep the chains moving. He didn’t bomb away all that often, but he was able to completed 17-of-23 passes for 228 yards and two score against UTEP, was fantastic against Marshall, and finished with a touchdown pass in every game but three with no interceptions in eight games.
Most of the UK defensive talent is up front, but the star of the show is Trevard Lindley, a tough-tackling, ball-hawking corner who plays bigger than his 6-0, 175-pound size. He made four interceptions and 37 tackles despite being banged up. A top playmaker, he needs to be avoided by Pinkney whenever possible, and he needs to come up with a big defensive stop or three on third downs.
Kentucky will win if... the turnovers are kept to a minimum. This is a good East Carolina team, but it’s hardly an elite one talent-wise. It needs to be mistake-free and it needs to come up with a few turnovers to win. Against Virginia Tech, the Pirates took the ball away twice and came up with the big punt block. Against West Virginia, the run defense swarmed all over Pat White and company and forced two turnovers. Against Tulsa in the Conference USA title game, ECU came up with five interceptions of Golden Hurricane star QB, David Johnson, and forced two fumbles. On the year, ECU came up with 32 takeaways to make up for the mediocre offense. Kentucky can’t feed into that. While the Wildcats aren’t going to be explosive, it’ll be better to not take chances than to force things and risk making the big mistake.
East Carolina will win if
... the defense shuts down the run. ECU isn’t a brick wall defensively, but it’s not that bad, finishing third in Conference USA against the run and doing a great job of making teams try to bomb away to win. Kentucky doesn’t have a passing game, and while Hartline has the ability to throw for around 250 yards, it’s not like he’s the type of player who can carry the offense. This should be a defensive slugfest, so ECU needs to make UK press, try to force turnovers, and take advantage of every opportunity.
What will happen: This isn’t going to be a masterpiece. These are two flawed, occasionally ugly teams that find ways to win with smoke and mirrors. Points will be hard to come by and if one team comes up flat, this could be forgettable blowout. Kentucky’s defense will do a bit more than the ECU defense to come away with the win … and then the world will quickly change the channel to the Fiesta Bowl.

CFN Prediction: Kentucky 17 … East Carolina 12 … Line: East Carolina -2

- 2009 Liberty Bowl Player Profiles, Histories & More