Cats can't get offense going, bowl winning streak ends at three

UK holds all-american Spiller in Check but can't pull out win

ccosby@herald-leader.comDecember 28, 2009 

NASHVILLE — The University of Kentucky took care of one major part of its game plan in the Music City Bowl. It kept Clemson All-America tailback C.J. Spiller in check.

That wasn't enough to offset the numerous scoring opportunities the Wildcats squandered. UK moved inside Clemson territory six times Sunday night but ended up with just one touchdown to show for it. That proved to be the Cats' undoing in a 21-13 loss to snap Kentucky's bowl winning streak at three games.

"It's an extremely disappointing loss," UK Coach Rich Brooks said. "I thought we had quite a few chances where we crossed midfield and we couldn't finish the drives."

UK marched 61 yards on seven plays on its opening drive, taking a 7-0 lead on a Morgan Newton 17-yard scoring pass to Chris Matthews. But other than a pair of Lones Seiber field goals, the Cats left plenty of points on the board.

Kentucky drove to the Clemson 39 on its second drive but was forced to punt. The Cats reached midfield late in the second quarter before punting. They also punted from their own 42 and 48.

Kentucky had one final chance for a score and potential game-tying two-point conversion and looked in good shape when Ryan Tydlacka picked up nine yards on a fourth-and-3 fake punt from the Clemson 43. But UK would move the ball no further and Newton came up a yard short on a fourth-and-9 run from the Clemson 33.

"I thought that might spur us to get in the end zone," Brooks said.

After allowing seven different runners to go over 100 yards this season, Spiller picked up just 67 yards on 15 carries, with many of those coming on a clock-killing drive. But the Cats' inability to take advantage of field position made that a moot point.

"We didn't score," Brooks said. "The frustrating thing to me is when we got possession at midfield we were three-and-out. We get down to the 35 and we couldn't finish that drive. We squandered opportunities to get points."

The Clemson defense kept Randall Cobb and the Wildcats at bay. Cobb carried 10 times for just 36 yards.

"They did a good job against our Wildcat," Brooks said. "They had enough time to prepare for it, and they were able to take away the things we had been hurting other teams with."

Freshman Morgan Newton started at quarterback and went the entire way, but Newton's numbers weren't impressive: 13-for-23 passing for 98 yards.

The Tigers snapped out of their own early funk thanks to Spiller, who sprung loose for a 40-yarder on a screen pass late in the first quarter. Danny Trevathan stripped Spiller on the play, but Ashton Cobb tried to scoop the ball up instead of falling on it and it dribbled out of bounds.

Two plays later, Clemson receiver Jacoby Ford got behind Trevard Lindley and hauled in a 32-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7 with 16 seconds remaining in the first period.

Clemson penalties helped the Cats take a second-quarter lead. A pass interference call on gave UK a first down on a third-and-4 play, and the Tigers jumped offsides on fourth-and-1 from the 31. Seiber would connect on a 39-yard field goal to give the Cats a 10-7 lead.

The Wildcats' run defense broke down completely on the next series. Jamie Harper came in for Spiller and ripped off a 26-yard run, followed by a 33-yarder with Randall Burden making a touchdown-saving tackle on the 3. Harper then rumbled in for a 3-yard score at the 5:19 mark to push Clemson in front 14-10, a lead they would take into halftime.

The much-maligned Seiber had a solid outing in his UK farewell, capping the Cats' drive to open the second half with a 44-yard field goal to cut the deficit to one (14-13) with 10:13 left in the third quarter.

The Tigers had a chance to answer Seiber's field goal on their next drive, but Richard Jackson's 44-yard kick into the wind was short and wide.

The wind would play a factor at the end of the third quarter as well. Brooks called timeout with 2 seconds left in the period to force Clemson to punt into the wind, and Dawson Zimmerman's kick went just 24 yards, setting up the Cats at the Clemson 49 to start the fourth quarter.

Kentucky couldn't do anything with the good field position, however, going three-and-out. Tydlacka then shanked a 14-yarder that turned the field position back in Clemson's favor.

The Wildcats dodged a bullet when Parker, scrambling on third down, sailed a pass downfield to a wide-open Michael Harper that went off the tight end's fingertips.

That forced a Clemson punt, but the momentum turned back to the Tigers when UK committed the game's first turnover when Gene McCaskill fumbled at the Clemson 19 after catching a short pass from Newton.

That set up Spiller's 8-yard scoring run at 10:14, his 14th consecutive game with a touchdown. Spiller is the only player in the Football Bowl Subdivision to score a TD in every game this season.

"That turnover proved to be the difference in the game," Brooks said.

Locke says he's returning

Junior running back Derrick Locke said after the game that he would return for his senior season. Locke recently submitted paperwork to the NFL Draft Advisory Board to get an evaluation on his draft status.

"There are things that I haven't gotten to accomplish that I want to get done," Locke said. "I'm going to work my butt off and work hard and things are going to get right. I'm coming back for a senior season and hopefully be a top draft pick."

Locke's announcement did come with a caveat, however.

"If we don't get the offense going in the right direction that I want, I could get myself going in the supplemental draft," he said.

■ The LP Field crowd was announced at 57,280, with at least 75 percent of it appearing to be UK fans.

■ In addition to keeping Spiller in check on the ground, the Cats kept him from doing major damage in the return game. Spiller, who came into the game with an NCAA-record seven kickoff returns for touchdowns, returned two kicks for 47 yards Sunday night.

■ Clemson played without four reserves who were suspended for a curfew violation — defensive tackles Jamie Cumbie and Rennie Moore, tight end Durnell Barry and wide receiver Kyle Barry.

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