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Music City Bowl 2009: Clemson 21, Kentucky 13 -- Postmortem

Well, it had to happen eventually, and tonight it happened to the Wildcats.  After three straight bowl wins, they lost tonight to a tough Clemson team.

Congratulations to the Clemson Tigers.  They did what they had to do, and managed to fight and claw their way to a big win.  Despite shooting themselves in the foot repeatedly with dumb penalties, the Tigers managed to make enough clean plays to win the Music City Bowl on the strength of fine work by the Clemson offensive line, who did a very good job against the Wildcat defensive line.  C.J. Spiller had a lot to say about the this game, and Kyle Parker was very un-freshmanlike in his excellent game management.

For Kentucky, it was a frustrating loss.  Randall Cobb dropped two critical passes, perhaps the only really meaningful drops he has had this year.  Kentucky's defensive line just was not up to the task of handling the constant pressure from Spiller.  And the fumble from Gene McCaskill was ultimately the ball game for the Wildcats, as turnovers deep in your own territory so often are.

This was a disappointing season for Kentucky, but it shouldn't have been.  All the injuries and having a true freshman quarterback at the helm for most of the year, it's hard to figure how UK was able to win seven games.  But in the end, the 'Cats were as healthy as they have been all year, and were unable to do what was required to win their fourth straight bowl.

Of course, I'm disappointed in the loss, as all Kentucky fans are.  But for once, it wasn't for lack of Randall Cobb touches, or weird playcalling.  This time, the players lost the game on the field (to the extent Clemson didn't win it outright) by turning it over in their own territory, dropping passes at crucial times, or just failing to get the play off timely.

More after the jump.

It's hard to be disappointed in Randall Cobb, and I'm sure he has more disappointment in himself than I, or perhaps even the entire Big Blue Nation, could ever muster for him.  He just didn't have the magic this game, and although he wasn't bad, he just wasn't good enough.

Derrick Locke played fine,  but we needed more from him than we got, particularly on kickoff returns.  Kentucky's receiving corps, with the exception of one really good catch by Chris Matthews, was largely handled by the Clemson defense.  It was a grind-it-out-on-the-ground football game, and Clemson just ground it out better than the 'Cats did.

Morgan Newton, I thought, played a really good game.  He played like a sophomore instead of a freshman, which is important, but he still made costly errors.  But his errors were relatively small, like missing a wide open receiver down the right sideline because he locked in on Randall Cobb.  On the last UK offensive possession, he should have just put his head down and let his 230# frame carry him for the first down, but he tried to finesse it and didn't quite get there.

Kentucky's defense just wasn't good enough tonight.  Sam Maxwell was sorely missed, and UK just wore down in the second half when Clemson was able to force them into some short possessions.  In the end, UK's defense was the weakest link of all, allowing Clemson to gash them for huge chunks of yardage at various points in the game.

I don't want to recap the season tonight, I just want to deal with this game until I have time to sleep on it, review the stats and consider everything as a whole.  I am disappointed, but there is no doubt whatever that Clemson was the more talented football team, and they did enough with that talent to win this game.  The 'Cats were always in it until the very end, but the best team definitely won this football game, no doubt about it.