NASHVILLE, TN – C.J. Spiller and Dabo Swinney stood on the victor’s podium amid the snow flurries following the Music City Bowl with smiles as bright as the LP Field lights, both men relishing a bowl win and a perfect ending to a head coach’s first season and a star’s last collegiate game.
Spiller won the game’s Most Valuable Player award after gaining 172 all-purpose yards and scoring the final touchdown in Clemson’s 21-13 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats Sunday night, ending the Tigers’ three-game bowl losing streak and sending Clemson’s most-revered player into the NFL with a bowl victory that Swinney said was all about team.
“Team victory,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “It was a great team win, but we are so proud of C.J. He has accomplished a lot. He is the only player in the conference to have 1000-plus yards rushing and 500-plus yards receiving in the same season, and the only guy to do it in the country this year. He is ready to pass the baton now.
“This was a very good year, because people don’t realize how hard it is to win. I don’t care what conference you are in, it’s hard to win. I think as a first-year staff, we have the second-most wins as a first year staff. We haven’t won a bowl game since Moby Dick was a minnow, and we won a bowl game, so this was a good year. This was a goal for us to win the bowl and create momentum for our program. We were able to accomplish that.”
Spiller, as usual, was more willing to talk about the team than himself in the aftermath.
“I am kind of speechless right now,” Spiller said. “I am very happy that we won the game. I haven’t won a bowl game since I have been here. I just wanted to see what it felt like in the locker room after you win a championship. That is really what it was because this was a championship. It’s a great feeling.”
The Tigers went three-and-out on their first possession, and following the Clemson punt, it took Kentucky just seven plays to punch the ball into the end zone. The Wildcats employed the Wildcat twice on the drive for 16 yards, but it was Morgan Newton’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Chris Matthews that gave Kentucky the 7-0 lead.
The teams traded punts on their next possessions before the Tigers and Spiller finally got the offense going. Parker completed a screen pass that Spiller took down the right sideline for 42 yards, and two plays later Parker lofted a beautiful pass that Jacoby Ford ran under in the end zone, the 32-yard touchdown knotting the score at seven.
Parker said he read the defense before the snap, helping to set up the touchdown.
“We just came up there, and they were playing a cover zero,” Parker said. “I saw the blitz, and recognized that no one would be in the middle of the field. They came with the blitz, and the offensive line did a good job of picking it up, and then Jacoby did a good job of getting open.”
The ensuing Kentucky possession saw the Wildcats keep the ball for an astounding 7:47 and 15 plays, and ended with a 39-yard field goal by Lones Sieber that gave Kentucky a 10-7 lead. The Tigers committed two critical third-down penalties that kept the drive alive.
Clemson’s next drive turned into the Jamie Harper show, with Harper taking the first snap 26 yards for a first down the right side, then took the second snap 33 yards to the Kentucky three-yard line. Three plays later, on third down, Harper capped the drive by plunging in from one yard out to give the Tigers a 14-10 lead they held at the half.
The Wildcats scored to open the second half, chewing up 10 plays and almost five minutes before trimming the Clemson advantage to 14-13 when Sieber hit a field goal from 44-yards out.
The teams struggled through the late third and early fourth quarter before the Tiger defense created a golden opportunity. Kentucky receiver Gene McCaskill caught a pass over the middle, but was stripped by Kavell Conner and Jarvis Jenkins recovered at the Wildcat 19-yard line.
Conner, who finished with 11 tackles, said he went for the strip on the play.
“They were running that in route with the one receiver the whole game,” Conner said. “The corner gave me a look, and I just played my technique. I was fortunate to come up with the strip and create the turnover for my team. I knew it was out as soon as I hit him.”
Three plays later, Spiller continued his streak of scoring a touchdown in every game when he ran over the right side and scored from eight yards out for a 21-13 Clemson lead with 10:14 remaining.
The Wildcats had two more chances, but when the Tigers took over with 5:27 remaining, they were able to run out the clock.
“I am so proud of our offensive line on that drive,” Swinney said. “They just took over. We had a couple of third downs, where if we don’t make it, they get the ball back and have a chance. But Jamie Harper had a couple of tough runs, and we were able to run out the clock.”
Perhaps an unsung hero of the game for the Tigers, other than Conner’s performance, was the play of fullback Chad Diehl, who said he was happy to get the chance to block.
“I was just happy with the opportunity,” Diehl said. “It really wasn’t in the plan for us to run that much, but once we saw we could run on them, it changed. I was in there on the drive that we scored on five plays [Harper’s drive], and we blocked great on that drive. It was just a good feeling to get out there and help the team.”
Swinney said that he was pleased with the way all of the Tigers ran the football.
“I give a lot of credit to our offensive line,” Swinney said. “All three of our backs ran very well and Jamie Harper was a huge spark for us tonight with almost 10 yards a carry. Obviously, C.J. was always special and had another big night running the football. Andre Ellington averaged five yards a carry on his opportunities.”Whenever you have the offensive line come to you that, you know you have to gear it up, run physical and run hard. You know those guys were going to do their job up front.”
Kentucky head coach Rich Brooks, who said he told his team after the game that he was 80 percent certain he would not return next season, credited Clemson’s depleted defensive front for controlling the line of scrimmage.
“You got to give Clemson a lot of credit,” Brooks said. “They have a good, physical defensive front. They did a good job against our Wildcat. They had enough time to prepare for it and they took some of the things we have been hurting other teams with away.”
Score by Quarters 1 2 3 4 Score
----------------- -- -- -- -- -----
Kentucky............ 7 3 3 0 - 13 Record: (7-6,3-5)
Clemson............. 7 7 0 7 - 21 Record: (9-5,6-2)
1st 10:08 UK - Chris Matthews 17 yd pass from Morgan Newton (Lones Seiber kick), 7-61 3:04, UK 7 - CU 0
00:16 CU - Ford, J 32 yd pass from Parker, K (Jackson, R kick), 4-90 1:59, UK 7 - CU 7
2nd 07:29 UK - Lones Seiber 39 yd field goal, 12-51 7:47, UK 10 - CU 7
05:19 CU - Harper, J 1 yd run (Jackson, R kick), 5-62 2:10, UK 10 - CU 14
3rd 10:13 UK - Lones Seiber 44 yd field goal, 10-49 4:47, UK 13 - CU 14
4th 10:14 CU - Spiller, C 8 yd run (Jackson, R kick), 3-19 1:19, UK 13 - CU 21
FIRST DOWNS................... 19 14
RUSHES-YARDS (NET)............ 42-167 33-180
PASSING YDS (NET)............. 110 141
Passes Att-Comp-Int........... 26-15-0 14-8-0
TOTAL OFFENSE PLAYS-YARDS..... 68-277 47-321
Fumble Returns-Yards.......... 0-0 0-0
Punt Returns-Yards............ 1--2 0-0
Kickoff Returns-Yards......... 4-76 2-47
Interception Returns-Yards.... 0-0 0-0
Punts (Number-Avg)............ 4-29.2 4-36.5
Fumbles-Lost.................. 1-1 2-0
Penalties-Yards............... 3-15 7-75
Possession Time............... 34:26 25:34
Third-Down Conversions........ 6 of 16 4 of 10
Fourth-Down Conversions....... 2 of 3 0 of 0
Red-Zone Scores-Chances....... 1-1 2-2
Sacks By: Number-Yards........ 0-0 1-7
RUSHING: Kentucky-Derrick Locke 18-64; Morgan Newton 10-37; Randall Cobb
10-36; Moncell Allen 2-19; Ryan Tydlacka 1-9; John Conner 1-2. Clemson-Harper, J
8-79; Spiller, C 15-67; Ellington, A 4-20; Parker, K 3-16; Ford, J 1-2; TEAM
PASSING: Kentucky-Morgan Newton 13-23-0-98; Randall Cobb 2-3-0-12.
Clemson-Parker, K 8-14-0-141.
RECEIVING: Kentucky-Derrick Locke 6-30; Gene McCaskill 4-31; Randall Cobb
2-20; Maurice Grinter 2-12; Chris Matthews 1-17. Clemson-Spiller, C 3-58; Ford,
J 3-44; Palmer, M 2-39.
INTERCEPTIONS: Kentucky-None. Clemson-None.
FUMBLES: Kentucky-Gene McCaskill 1-1. Clemson-TEAM 1-0; Spiller, C 1-0.
Stadium: LP Field Attendance: 57280
Kickoff time: 7:33 pm End of Game: 10:42 pm Total elapsed time: 3:09
Officials: Referee: Henningan,D.; Umpire: Feeney,Rick; Linesman: Rice,Chuck;
Line judge: Campbell,Hugh; Back judge: Parham,Keith; Field judge: Taratini,Tony;
Side judge: Brennan,Jim; Scorer: Lowry/Weinman;
Temperature: 39 Wind: NW 7 Weather: Cloudy
Most Valuable Player: C.J. Spiller, Clemson