Music City Bowl Preview - Clemson vs. Kentucky

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. --- Clemson coach Tommy Bowden turned in his whistle for a pen and notepad Thursday afternoon during the coaches’ press conference for today’s 1 p.m. Gaylord’s Hotel Music City Bowl on ESPN.

Like a skilled reporter, Bowden jotted down key notes every time Kentucky coach Rich Brooks answered a question for the media who gathered in an interview room underneath the stadium at LP Field in Nashville.

“I have to meet with my team tonight so I took a few notes that I like to pass down to the team when I talk to them later,” Bowden said after the 45-minute session was over.”

From the notes Bowden gathered, he more than likely reported to his team about how hungry Kentucky (7-5) will be to get a victory. The Wildcats --- winners in four of the last five games --- have not won a bowl game since a 20-19 win over Wisconsin in the 1984 Hall of Fame Bowl. Even more of an eye-opener to Bowden was the fact no Kentucky team has won more than seven games since the ’84 squad won nine. In fact, if the Wildcats --- a 10-point underdog to Clemson --- beat the Tigers it will be just the second time they have won eight or more games in 29 years.

“That would be a big step for our program,” Brooks said. “We haven’t had a lot of success on the football field at Kentucky and getting a win against a Clemson program that is a perennial bowl team and has the success and tradition that they have had would be a big step.”

Today’s game is Kentucky’s 11th bowl appearance all-time. Though the Wildcats have lost their last three bowl games, including the 1993 Peach Bowl to Clemson, they have an equal 5-5 mark in bowl games.

“There are some things we would like to accomplish too,” Bowden said in trying to point out why the Music City is equally as important to Clemson. “Clemson has not finished in the top 25 in back-to-back seasons in 16 years… It has been a long time since we have won three bowl games in a row. We have won two bowl games in a row and we want to win a third.

“Nine wins also look better in the paper than eight.”

The Tigers (8-4) would also like to end the current slump they are in and head into the off season with some positive momentum. After getting off to a 7-1 start, Clemson dropped three of their final four games to close the regular season.

“When I talk to the team tonight, I don’t think they will care about the momentum in the spring,” Bowden said. “They have girl friends here and family here.

“They are not interested in spring ball. They are more interested in the immediate future which is this game. I think the win from a coaching perspective is. The momentum coming off, at that point and time, the players don’t see it that far along, but I have been at both ends of the spectrum as far as winning and losing a bowl game.”

At the start of the season there was question whether or not Brooks would still be the coach at Kentucky come this time of the year. But getting four SEC wins, including a 24-20 victory over Georgia allowed the Wildcats to turn what at one time was a 3-4 season into the school’s first bowl trip since the 1999 season. Now adding another win, would take all of that to a whole other level.

“That is a fairly significant step for a program that hasn’t had the same level of success that Clemson has had on the football field,” Brooks said. “I think it will be a tremendous way to finish for these seniors.

“They have had to persevere through probation and the tough years. To not only get to a bowl game, but to be able to win it and have the second most wins in 28 years at the University of Kentucky would be a very special moment in their life if they are able to do it.”
For the Wildcats to do it, they will have to stop Clemson’s powerful running game. The Tigers are averaging 225 yards a game on the ground, which led the ACC and ranked fifth nationally.

“It scares me too death,” Brooks said about Clemson’s rushing game. “We have not played a team that runs the ball as well as Clemson does. We have not played a team that across the board, tight ends and fullbacks included, that has as good of a front.

“They block well and they have two tremendous backs. I don’t think there is anybody in our league that runs the ball as well as Clemson other than Arkansas and we didn’t play them.”

The Wildcats ranked 111th nationally against the run, allowing 189 yards a game. But Brooks does not want his team to focus squarely on stopping Clemson’s running game. He just wants them to concentrate on doing what got them to Nashville in the first place.

“I have tried to impress upon them that they are capable of doing things that not a lot of Kentucky teams have done,” he said. “We have accomplished some of those things this year. Getting to a bowl game --- the 11th one in school history --- winning seven games --- tied for the second most in 28 years --- and beating Georgia for the first time in 10 years.

“It is something they can make their mark coming off two or three miserable years in Kentucky football. All of sudden they can leave with their heads held high, knowing they have established some creditability for Kentucky football.”

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