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Kentucky vs. Clemson: 3 matchups to watch

Who to watch for as the Cats face off with the Tigers.

Ray Davis Dylan Ballard - A Sea Of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats are putting the finishing touches on their bowl prep as they will travel in the next few days to Jacksonville for a date in the Gator Bowl against the Clemson Tigers.

Heading into the bowl game, the Cats are sitting at 7-5 and have more momentum than many probably imagined after a rough regular season. In all reality though, they only finished one game below where many would have expected them to land. After a huge win to finish the regular season over the Louisville Cardinals, the Cats will try to knock off another ACC team to round out the year.

For Clemson, they finished the season at 8-4 and 4-4 in the ACC. Dabo Swinney’s squad had their fair share of ups and downs this season. With some key wins over Notre Dame, NC State, and North Carolina, it was also matched with some close losses to Florida State, Miami, and a blowout opening night loss to Duke. Now, they will turn their attention to the Cats, hoping to pick up a second win in a row over an SEC opponent.

As the BBN starts to get ready to make the trip to Jacksonville, here are some matchups to watch heading into the Gator Bowl.

Ray Davis vs. Clemson Run Defense

If you asked many across the college football landscape before the season, the numbers Ray Davis put up for the Kentucky offense this year would likely be a shock. Now set up in a good position to hear his name called in the upcoming NFL Draft, he will get one more chance to face off against a solid run defensive unit in Clemson.

Coming into the game, Davis has totaled 1,066 rushing yards on 186 attempts this season while also adding 13 touchdowns. A 5.7 yards per rush average is good enough for two more yards per rush than the Tigers' defense has given up through 12 games.

On the year, this Clemson defense has given up a total of 1,398 rushing yards and a total of 15 touchdowns. With some key players out for Clemson across the defense, they might be a little softer in a few places, but it is obvious this unit is legit.

A big game by Davis will be needed if the Cats hope to pull off the win.

Kentucky O-Line vs. Clemson front-seven

According to a few reports, the one unit that will be a little weaker than usual heading into this matchup will be the offensive line. With Kenneth Horsey and Jeremy Flax both not expected to play due to injury, Zack Yenser and Liam Coen will now be looking for the next guy to step up.

After a mediocre 2022 season, the Big Blue Wall as a whole took a step forward, especially in pass protection. Only allowing 20 sacks this season, they will now face off against a Clemson front seven that has had its fair share of success in getting to the passer.

Now a unit that is not elite in pass rushing by any means, the team totaled 30 sacks this season. Inside the top 50 in total sacks this season, this isn't the first time that the Kentucky offense line will face off against a solid pass rush. It will be the first time they do it without two starters, one at tackle especially.

If Kentucky wants to come away with the win, they will need to continue to stay strong in pass pro.

Devin Leary vs. Cade Klubnik

Coming into the game, both teams are pretty evenly matched. Whoever pulls off this win will likely be, in part, to the performance of their quarterback.

Entering this year, Devin Leary was considered the No. 1 overall QB who entered the transfer portal by several different media outlets. Now, although his season did not go stats-wise as many in the BBN might have hoped, it wasn't as bad as many might think, either.

Throwing for 2,440 yards and 23 touchdowns on the season, Leary will now face off against a QB with very similar numbers to himself in Cade Klubnik.

The former five-star recruit took over as the full-time starter this season, after splitting time at the top with DJ Uiagalelei in the 2022 season. Now in his first year leading the Tigers, he threw for 2,580 yards and 19 touchdowns, while completing 63% of his passes.

Which QB will stand out?

Whoever it is will likely push their team to a win.