Welcome back Tiger football fans. Despite some disappointing play and coaching early in the season, Clemson got back on track and finished the regular season 8-4 and ranked #22. The Tiger defense would be without the services of Jeremiah Trotter Jr. and Nate Wiggins on defense as they are headed off to the NFL. Clemson came into the game favored by a FG and that’s how it turned out after a wild second half that saw the Tigers execute a 2-minute drive at the end for the winning score.
Will Shipley returned the opening kickoff for 34 yards to give the Tigers good opening field position. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Kentucky moved Clemson into Wildcat territory. A short run and a poorly executed bubble screen got Clemson behind the chains and they had to settle for a Jonathan Weitz FG to take the early lead 3-0. The Wildcat drive started well, but the Tiger defense forced a 3rd & long that they couldn’t convert and Hamp Greene fielded the punt at the Tiger 14.
Clemson’s next drive was a dud and they punted it away. The Tiger defense gave up two big plays on the Kentucky drive and allowed a score. With 5 minutes left in the quarter, the Wildcats led 7-3.
The Tiger offense continued to struggle at the line of scrimmage and didn’t do much on their possession. After the punt, Kentucky took over at their 25. The Clemson defense recovered and forced a 3 & out this time. Clemson and Kentucky both followed with poor drives. The Tiger offensive line was being manhandled by the Wildcats.
The next Tiger possession started when Phil Mafah ripped off a 19-yard run on 1st down. Cade Klubnik hit Troy Stellato for another 14 yards and the Tigers were well into Wildcat territory. A couple of plays later he connected with Jake Briningstool inside the 2 yard line. Mafah then punched it and the Tigers had a 10-7 lead with 10 minutes left in the half. The Tiger defense started well on the next Wildcat drive but a pass interference kept the drive going and a 58-yard pass on the next play put Kentucky at the Tiger 5. They scored on the next play and went back up 14-10.
Clemson went back to ineffective offensive play on the next drive. The Wildcats made a couple of good plays on their drive, but the Tiger defense forced a 3rd & long and held. The Tigers got the ball at their 21 with 1:25 left in the half. With no real downfield threat, the Tigers weren’t able to do anything and the clock ran out.
The second half started disastrously for the Tigers as the Wildcats returned the kickoff 100 yards for a TD. A personal foul on Clemson just added to the pain, not that 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff means much these days. The Tiger drive started with a 4-yard loss on a Mafah carry. They followed that with a scramble and throw by Klubnik to Olsen Patt-Henry for 28 yards, then a 13-yard run by Klubnik. It went downhill from there. This offense just can’t seem to get around shooting themselves in the foot. Not that the officials were helping much, missing an obvious face mask foul by the Wildcats.
The Wildcats were effective on their first drive of the half, but they kept committing big penalties that eventually doomed the drive. The Tigers started their drive with their usual thing of having a good play here and there, but then playing horribly on others. This time they managed to hold it together enough to get down to the Kentucky 1. Mafah powered it into the end zone to get Clemson back into the game at the beginning of the 4th quarter. The Tigers went for 2 to make it a 3-point game, but the blocking just wasn’t there. The score was 21-16 at this point.
Clemson forced a fumbled on Kentucky’s drive and recovered it but then Klubnik was hit as he threw and it floated into the hands of a Wildcat defender in the end zone. As I’ve said most of the year, this offense just can’t help shooting themselves in the foot. The Tiger defense responded with a good series to keep Clemson in the game. Barrett Carter tipped and intercepted a pass at the Wildcat 37. Tyler Brown had a couple of nice catches to give the Tigers 1st & goal. But tey couldn’t get it into the end zone and settled for a FG. It was 21-19 Kentucky with a bit over 7 minutes remaining in the game.
The Tiger defense came through yet again, with Khalil Barnes forcing a fumble that Carter recovered at the Kentucky 29. Mafah took it in on the next play and the offense went for 2 and got it. Clemson led 27-21 with under 7 minutes left. But the excitement was short-lived as Kentucky scored on a 60-yard pass to take the lead again 28-27.
Shipley returned the kickoff 60 yards to the Wildcat 37 to set the Tiger offense up in good position but went off to the locker room with a leg injury. The offense was in inept mode again with the offensive line looking pretty pathetic and they settled for a FG to take the lead 30-28. The defense gave up another long pass and two plays later the Wildcats scored to take a 35-30 lead with 2:39 left.
With Shipley out, Barnes ran the kickoff back to the Tiger 32. Clemson moved down into Kentucky territory but poor blocking led to Klubnik’s having to throw the ball away when he wasn’t quite outside the tackle. They faced 3rd & 18 from midfield. Antonio Williams made a couple of catches to move the ball inside the 20. Briningstool then made a catch at the 3 and Tigers fan were holding their breath with 21 seconds left. Mafah was able to push his way into the end zone. They then went for 2 and got it to make their lead 38-35. Shelton Lewis intercepted Devin Leary on their first play to seal the same.
I have to say this game was as frustrating to watch as the whole season was. The Tigers showed flashes of greatness and extended periods of ineptness on offense. Maybe that was fitting for their final game of the year. Now comes the long offseason with the promise that Matt Luke might finally be the key to getting the Tiger offensive line into the right shape to start competing for national championships again. The defense should be solid again next year and if the offense can add a downfield receiving threat, they should also be pretty good on offense. As I have said so often, it depends on the offensive line. A good line can effectively mask other weaknesses. That’s my take. What’s your’s? Let’s discuss it in the comments section. As always, thanks for stopping by and making STS a part of your Clemson football experience. We look forward to seeing you again next year!