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2009 Music City Bowl in the Rear-View Mirror

Well, I'd like to say that 2009 was a great football season, but reality must intrude -- 7-6 cannot be considered great by any but a rebuilding team, and this Kentucky Wildcats team was definitely not that.  But the real tale of the the season was a lack of offensive punch, similar to last season.  Yes, Kentucky had a better offense this season than last, but overall, there was not that much difference between the two teams.  The SEC was definitely weaker in the midsection than last year, also.

But with all that said, 2009 wasn't a bad year, either.  It was disappointing, but mostly because of the fact that the Wildcats missed so many opportunities to add wins. UK was only uncompetitive in one game all season, and had a decent chance to win at least three more football games -- versus the South Carolina Gamecocks, versus the Tennessee Volunteers, and versus the Clemson Tigers.  Yes, injuries were a big part of that, but injuries are a part of football.  They hit us hard in critical spots this year, but UK must eventually build enough depth to win through injury if they are ever to seriously compete in the SEC East.

I know that Kentucky fans are anxious to break through and make a real run at the SEC East, but before we get there, we are going to have to find a way to get to .500 consistently in the league.  That is going to take time, and I know everyone is tired of waiting for these results, but wait you must.  This is not the Big East -- the SEC is filled with great football traditions, of which UK is definitely not one, at least not yet, and it is questionable if they ever can create one.  But four winning seasons in a row is a good place to start.

Now, let's look back at the 2009 Music City Bowl.  Follow me over the jump.

First, taking a look at a few of the offensive stats, we see the following:

Stat UK Clemson
Points 13 21
Plays 68 47
Net Yards 277 321
Yards Avg 4.1 6.8
1st Downs 19 14
1st Downs-Rushing 11 8
1st Downs-Passing 4 6
1st Downs-Penalties 4 0
3rd Downs Made 6 4
3rd Downs Att. 16 10
3rd Down Pct 38% 40%
4th Downs Made 2 0
4th Downs Att. 3 0
4th Down Pct 67% 0
Carries 42 33
Rushing Yards 167 180
Rushing Yards Avg 4 5.5
Completions 15 8
Passing Att. 26 14

Here are some things that stand out about these numbers:

  • Kentucky ran 21 more plays than the Tigers.  For a ball-control team like UK, that is a very good number.
  • Clemson outgained Kentucky in spite of UK's 21 play advantage.  That says that the Kentucky defense was not able to contain Clemson, and UK was gashed repeatedly for big plays.  Good defenses don't give up that many big plays.  In fact, two of Clemson's three touchdowns were created by big plays on offense.
  • Need further proof?  Look at the 3rd down conversions.  UK converted at 38%, right on season average, and Clemson converted at 40%, right on season average for UK opponents.  Clemson exceeded their season average in third down conversions (38%)
  • Clemson outgained Kentucky on the ground despite rushing the ball 9 fewer times.
  • Kentucky threw the ball more than Clemson, something I never would have expected.  But who needs to throw the ball when you are averaging 5.5 yards per carry?
  • Without the high number of penalties for first down, 4 for UK and 0 for Clemson, UK would likely not have scored more than six points.

Kentucky's offense moved the ball, but stalled when it got in Tiger territory.  That has kind of been the story of this offense all year, moving the ball well at times, then stalling.  That is a sign of an offense that is not diverse enough, and even though we saw a fairly large number of Wildcat formations yesterday, and an unusually high number of pass attempts, the vast majority of the passes were very short.  Without a vertical game, Kentucky was vulnerable to a stacked box, and Clemson's safeties buried Locke for short gains all too often.

Some other numbers:

Stat UK Clemson
INTs 0 0
Passing Net Yards 110 141
Passing Yards Avg 4.2 10.1
Sacked 1 0
Sack Yds Lost

Punts 4 4
Punt Yards 116 146
Punt Yards Avg 29.2 36.5
Punt Return Att. 1 0
Punt Return Yds -2 0
Kick Return Att. 4 2
Kick Return Yds 76 47
Penalties 3 7
Penalty Yards 15 75
Fumbles 1 2
Fumbles Lost 1 0

Here's what these appear to say:

  • Clemson outgained Kentucky through the air with just over half as many attempts.  Vertical game?  The Tigers have one, the 'Cats do not.
  • UK got no sacks on the Clemson QB.  To be fair, they didn't get many shots at him.
  • UK played a very clean game with only 15 yards of penalties versus 75 (!) for Clemson.  That's a huge disparity, and UK was still unable to win the game.
  • Only one turnover the whole game, and it was the difference-maker.  UK's defense has not done a good job of forcing turnovers this year -- 99th in fumbles forced.  UK is 18th in interceptions, but the Tigers only threw the ball 14 times.
  • A bad punt cost UK.  The special teams were not special on Sunday night.

Individually, C.J. Spiller was held to 67 yards rushing, but he also had 58 yards receiving and 47 yards in kickoff returns for a total of 172 all-purpose yards, just 20 below his average.  Derrick Locke managed 170 yards, 19 above his average.  Randall Cobb managed just 68 all-purpose yards, only about half of his average, and that includes a 12-yard pass completion.

But the big 'Cat killer was Jamie Harper, who gashed Kentucky for 79 yards, his second highest total of the year, on only 8 attempts.  That's 9.9 yards per touch.

So who did the better job, the UK defense or the Clemson defense?  That seems pretty easy.  Clemson held Cobb down (and Cobb helped them by dropping a couple of balls that hit him right in the hands), and even though UK held Spiller down a bit, it wasn't near as much as the Tiger defense solved Cobb and the wildcat formation.

In the end, though, Kentucky had a chance to win this game.  More than one, actually, but they just could not get it done.  That kind of epitomizes the kind of season it's been, and I'm sure that's why Coach Brooks described it as "frustrating."  He is frustrated, UK fans are frustrated, the team is frustrated.  We're all frustrated, as we should be -- this season may be fine by historical standards, but it could have been so much better.

Just like this game.