Clemson beats Kentucky; Brooks doesn’t plan to return
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — C.J. Spiller scored a touchdown and had 172 all-purpose yards in his final college game, leading Clemson to a 21-13 victory Sunday night in the Music City Bowl.
The Tigers (9-5) hadn’t won a bowl since the 2005 Champs Sports Bowl.
Kentucky (7-6) was trying to make program history by winning a fourth straight bowl game. The Wildcats certainly had the home-field advantage with blue filling nearly two-thirds of the lower bowl at LP Field.
Spiller, the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, scored his 51st career touchdown — a Clemson record — on an 8-yard run with 10:14 left in the fourth quarter to make it 21-13.
Spiller scored three plays after Clemson linebacker Kavell Conner stripped Gene McCaskill after a short catch and Jarvis Jenkins recovered the ball at the Kentucky 19 for the game’s only turnover.
Kentucky tried to answer.
Punter Ryan Tydlacka ran for 9 yards on fourth-and-3, then coach Rich Brooks used his last time-out with 5:38 left before going for it again on fourth-and-8 at the Clemson 32. The Cats couldn’t convert. Freshman quarterback Morgan Newton scrambled only to be tackled by Ricky Sapp a yard short.
Spiller helped the Tigers run out the clock and start the celebration. He finished with 68 yards on 15 carries and 57 yards on three catches to earn game MVP honors.
He didn’t return a kick longer than 30 yards. Kentucky kicker Lones Seiber perfectly placed one kickoff into the right edge of the end zone near the pylon for a touchback, and Spiller caught another near the same spot for another touchback.
Kentucky held onto the ball for more than 34 minutes and ran 22 more plays. Clemson still outgained the Wildcats 321-277 and the Tigers held on to the ball for the final 5:27.
Winds gusting to 22 mph affected both teams on a cold night.
Richard Jackson’s 44-yard field goal for Clemson into the wind came up just short with 4:32 left in the third. Kentucky called a timeout with 2 seconds left in the third, and Dawson Zimmerman’s punt went just 24 yards before bouncing back for the Wildcats.
The Tigers forced Kentucky three-and-out, and Tydlacka had to deal with that wind himself. His punt went only 14 yards.
Kentucky coach Rich Brooks says he told his Wildcats that he’s probably not returning next season.
Brooks announced at the postgame news conference that he is “80 percent” sure that he’s not coming back. He plans to think about his next move, talk with his family and make a final decision within the week.
The 68-year-old coach just finished his seventh season at Kentucky with a 7-6 record and 39-47 overall with the Wildcats.
Last January, Kentucky announced that offensive coordinator Joker Phillips will take over as head coach when Brooks steps down.