Instant Analysis - Music City
Clemson 21 ... Kentucky 13
Wow, did the ACC need this.
Kentucky had shown up in past Music City bowls, winning two recent
battles including a 28-20 victory over Clemson in the 2006. Since this
game went to a SEC vs. ACC matchup, the SEC had gone 3-0 highlighted by
a 16-14 Vanderbilt win over ACC runner-up Boston College last year.
Throw in the four-game winning streak the SEC has over the ACC in the
Chick-fil-A, and the Georgia win over Georgia Tech this season and the
South Carolina win over Clemson, and the gap between the two neighbor
leagues has widened.
Virginia Tech might be the second best team in the ACC right now, Miami
might show that it deserves that honor, and Georgia Tech has to win the
Orange Bowl over Iowa, but if the ACC runner-up lost to a mediocre SEC
team in the Music City Bowl for the second year in a row, good luck
trying to get any respect for the traditional basketball conference.
It's not like Clemson was lights-out. C.J. Spiller was fine, but he
wasn't as special as everyone was hoping for against a Kentucky D
prepared to slow him down, and it's not like the Wildcats had much
firepower on offense to deal with. But it's a bowl win, it's a big deal
for Clemson, and now the ACC is on the board after Boston College's loss
to USC in the Emerald Bowl the other night.
Kentucky might turn out to be far better next year. This year's team was
hammered by injuries and growing pains on offense, but the pieces are
there to do bigger things. Clemson has a nice base, but it doesn't have
a Spiller to count on to bail out the mediocre offense. So, basically,
Clemson, who was within an eyelash of playing in the Orange Bowl,
sputtered and struggled against, roughly, the sixth best SEC team. The
ACC needed this win, but it would be a much bigger help for the national
perception if this was just the start of a strong bowl year.
Now that his collegiate career is over, Clemson RB C.J. Spiller is going to make one whale of a pro playing on Sundays.
Yeah, he's had much better nights than he did against an underrated Kentucky D, but even when he's rushing for only 69 yards on a bad hoof, the greatness has a way of bubbling to the surface. There aren't that many players across the country who'll make you stop what you're doing just to see them perform. Spiller is one of those athletes, which is why he's going to be missed. You name it. He's got it.
Blessed with world-class speed when he gets into the open field, he's also tough enough to operate between the tackles. Watching him play is like witnessing an instructional video. He runs with great pad level, patiently waits for his blocks to develop, and then accelerates through the hole in a flash. With good hips and just enough change-of-direction to baffle defenders, he's a terror once he gets beyond the first line of defense. Oh, he also has tremendous hands, has zero character issues, and is one of the most dynamic special teams performers in NCAA history. Get out your pith helmet and shovel if you plan to search for a flaw in his game.
Spiller just wrapped up an outstanding career at Clemson that didn't really earn the recognition it deserved until 2009. Not to worry. There's a lot of football still left to be played and a diverse skill set that's going to make scouts and general managers weak in the knees once he descends on Mobile and Indianapolis in the coming months. A good example how returning for your senior year can be beneficial, he leaves a void beyond just Death Valley.
1) It was refreshing to see two teams who – despite their pronounced offensive limitations - played with passion from start to finish and delivered lots of hard hits on defense. The 2009 Music City Bowl was a rarity in the still-young bowl season, in that one team didn't fade away or flinch at the first sign of adversity. The brand of ball displayed in Nashville couldn't be described as elegant, but it was spirited and vigorous, with every player trying hard.
That last statement might seem to be an unnecessary observation, but it isn't. Seeing two bowl teams try hard at the same time, and on the same field, isn't a common occurrence. The two quarterbacks – Kentucky's Morgan Newton and Clemson's Kyle Parker – showed levels of speed and elusiveness that hadn't been witnessed during the regular season, especially in the case of Parker, whose fourth-quarter scrambling proved to be a significant difference-maker at LP Field. Rich Brooks and Dabo Swinney have both earned the confidence and trust of their teams. That's why a low-scoring but emotional Music City Bowl earned relatively high marks, all things considered.
2) 2006 Music City Bowl? What 2006 Music City Bowl?
Unlike the Clemson team that gave up the ghost against Kentucky three years ago on the very same piece of real estate, these Tigers showed the flinty, feisty resilience that marked their ACC Atlantic Division championship season. No, they didn't reach a BCS bowl, and yes, they still did lose to Maryland, but all in all, a strong home stretch punctuated by a bold effort against Georgia Tech (in the ACC title tilt) and this conquest against Kentucky should allow the good people of Clemson to say that this team showed a new personality.
Dominant, supreme, lordly Clemson? No, not yet. But same old sad-sack Clemson? That identity is also long-gone in the Palmetto State.
One of the main story lines coming into the Music City Bowl was C.J.
Spiller playing his last game in a Clemson uniform. As a fan of college football, I went to sleep a little bit disappointed in Spiller's performance and very impressed with Kentucky's future.
I don't want to take anything away from Spiller. He has been awesome at Clemson, should have been at the Heisman Trophy ceremony and will have a fantastic NFL career. I'm sure that the turf toe injury had a lot to do with it, but I expected a bit more flash from him in his finale.
But how bout that Kentucky defense? Pretty much everyone on the planet knew the game plan for the Wildcats was to stop Spiller, and until the last drive when the game was pretty much in hand, they did it.
Considering the uncertainty in Gainesville, if the Kentucky can develop some semblance of a passing game in 2010, why can't they compete for the SEC East?
Rich Brooks flies WAY under the radar. Granted there are names like Meyer, Spurrier, Richt and Kiffin residing in his division, so it's really no wonder that he doesn't receive as much pub. But he deserves a lot of credit for what he's done rebuilding that Kentucky program from the doldrums of probation. No matter the outcome of the Music City Bowl, the Kentucky Wildcats are definitely a team on the rise.