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5 Thoughts - 2009 Liberty Bowl
Kentucky S Marcus McClinton
Kentucky S Marcus McClinton
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jan 3, 2009


Kentucky beats East Carolina 26-19 ... 5 Thoughts on the 2009 Cotton Bowl

2009 Liberty Bowl

Kentucky 25 ... East Carolina 19


GAME RECAP: UK wins a wild one
- 2009 Liberty Bowl Preview 
- 2009 Liberty Bowl Player Profiles, Histories & More

1. I mocked the hiring of Rich Brooks by Kentucky in 2003. Now I feel like the one who should be mocked. Brooks has made a lot of people look foolish lately, bringing the program back to a level of respectability with consecutive bowl wins over Clemson, Florida State, and East Carolina. The Wildcats are not ready to compete for an SEC title anytime soon, but it’ll be on solid footing whenever the reins are handed over to coach-in-waiting Joker Phillips. Kentucky was lifeless in the first half of the Liberty Bowl, but Brooks and staff pushed the right buttons and made the right adjustments to come away with a 25-19 come-from-behind win. - Richard Cirminiello

2. Count me in as one of those people who puts a lot of stock into the bowl season being used the great indicator for how to put the regular season into perspective. Obviously there has to be some judgment used here and there, the Pac 10 didn't have a great year overall just because it went 5-0 in the bowls, but the Liberty Bowl was important for national perceptions. This was the Conference USA champion against a mediocre SEC team that just barely earned a bowl spot, and East Carolina had things in hand. It was doing a great job of keeping the punchless Wildcats in check for a half, and then came the kick return, the big defensive plays, and the Kentucky win, and now Conference USA has a problem. On a day when Utah ripped up the SEC West champion that was a quarter away from playing for the national championship, and with the way the Mountain West played against the Pac 10 this season, now Conference USA lumped in with the WAC and is just ahead of the MAC and Sun Belt and well behind the Mountain West. That might be a bit too much to put on one game, but that's partly what the bowls are for, and in the Liberty Bowl, the Conference USA champion didn't come through ... again.
- Pete Fiutak

3. His knee was clearly down. The play should have been whistled dead after the recovered fumble. Still, the game-winning touchdown from Kentucky DT Ventrell Jenkins will go down for me as one of the most memorable individual plays of this bowl season. Few things are more enjoyable in the sport than when a beefy 290-pounder gets a head of steam and realizes he’s got a shot for six. In case you missed the highlight, East Carolina was driving for the go-ahead score when Jenkins scooped up a fumble with one hand and chugged 56 yards for the score, delivering one of the nastiest stiff-arms you’ll ever see. In an otherwise tedious game, Jenkins’ effort really stood out. 
- Richard Cirminiello       

4. This game's most obvious turning point came when Kentucky ran back the second-half kickoff for a touchdown to trim a 16-3 lead to 16-9 without need for offensive production. With that having been said, the sequence that truly allowed the Wildcats--with an undermanned offense--to believe they could win came at the end of the first half.
 
East Carolina would have gained a great deal from a field goal. Already in front by 13, the Pirates could have pushed their lead to 16 and forced the Cats to score three times in order to win. But with a fourth-and-10 at the Kentucky 27, ECU coach Skip Holtz chose to throw a third consecutive go route to the end zone, a simple timing play along the right sideline. His kicker was perfectly capable of drilling a 44-yarder, but for some mysterious reason, Holtz eschewed the triple.
 
The pass attempt failed, keeping the lead at 13. Just as importantly, the play sent a message that ECU didn't respect Kentucky. After the Wildcats' defense smothered the Pirates in the second half--with East Carolina continuing to use a vertical passing attack that does not represent the team's typical modus operandi--the Pirates came to regret their excessive use of long, downfield throws.
 
Yes, Kentucky destroyed ECU with kick returns--the ones the Wildcats made, and the returns ECU didn't, thanks to Pirate returners kneeling when catching the ball. But before special teams and a huge fumble return enabled the Cats to score touchdowns, an insult late in the first half planted the seeds for the UK comeback. - Matthew Zemek
 
5. This game showed why football needs replay, and why college football's replay system is easily superior to the one used in the NFL. With all the bang-bang plays in need of review in the second half, NFL coaches might very well have used up their challenges with a few minutes left in regulation time, and someone would have gotten jobbed. In the college system, a lot more questionable calls were reviewed (but not all of them). There were enough "knee down or not down" calls to fill up all of 2009. Thankfully, college football had a replay system elastic enough to review them. - Matthew Zemek