#22 Clemson Vs Kentucky: Gator Bowl Preview & Prediction

Jacksonville, FL

Dabo Swinney and his Clemson football squad look to finish out the 2023 season on a winning note with a trip to Florida and a meeting with the Wildcats of Kentucky. The Tigers currently trending upward on a four game winning streak after turning the season around. Currently sitting at 8-4 and ranked 22nd, Swinney’s Pickens County Felines are looking for good tidings and a victory heading into the New Year.

Mark Stoops brings his Kentucky Wildcats into Jacksonville having lost 4 of the last 5 going down the stretch of the year. Ending their season with a resounding win versus arch rival and ACC member Louisville in the season finale to give the Wildcats some much needed momentum heading into bowl season. The Wildcats feature a conservative approach on the offensive side of the ball relying heavily on the run game and Ray Davis who eclipsed the 1000 yard mark on the year. Along with former NCST quarterback Devin Leary and his cast of wideouts the Cats’ are definitely a “pro style” offense that sets up heavy play action in the pass game as a result of the success of the run. Add to that a stingy defense that is anchored by a freak of an athlete in the form of Deone Walker a 6’8 348 pound behemoth that is a constant disruption. Kentucky gives up 24.8 points per game on the defensive side of the ball, while scoring 28.5 points average over the season.

Clemson rolls into the game looking for some continuity on offense , especially in the passing game as the Tigers last time out had a rough time getting Cade Klubnik and the wide outs on the same page. Klubnik on the year sits at 2580 yards of passing yardage along with 19 Td’s and 8 interceptions. For Friday’s game the Clemson offense gets back Wide Receiver Antonio Williams who has been out of the line up basically since the FAU game in the month of September. Look for offensive co-ordinator Garrett Riley to find a way to use Williams along with Tyler Brown in the same formation and find a way to stretch the field using the athleticism from the pair of Tiger wide receivers. As far as the Tigers run game… Look for status quo of what we have seen coming down the final stretch of the season. A heavy dose of Shipley and Mafah will set up some good looks for Klubnik and his crew. As the Wildcats have shown they can have trouble with a balanced attack, And the Tigers will need to be just that, in “balanced” in their offensive approach. If they can keep the Wildcats guessing on play calls and stay ahead of the chains the Tigers will have a good day.

Defensively Wes Goodwin’s crew will need to hone in on the run and shut it down not allowing Davis to get rolling. And at the same time collapse the pocket all around the Cats QB Leary not allowing any time for downfield routes to develop.

This game is one of the few not inundated with “opt outs” as the Tigers are short 3 defensive starters due to two entries into the NFL Draft in Nate Wiggins and Jeremiah Trotter, and one transfer in Andrew Mukuba. The Cats also come into the bowl game relatively unscathed here. So both rosters unlike 95% of the bowl games this season will basically be in tact from the start of the season.

With all this take into consideration. Look for a defensive battle by two teams that look to establish the run to compliment the pass game. Clemson will find success in finding that much needed balance and look for a few twist and turns in the form of trick plays or formations that you have not seen this season. As bowl practice allows the time to insert some new folds into the game plan. The Clemson defense will shut down this Kentucky offense and the Tigers will find enough success on offense to return to the upstate with a Clemson win over another SEC program.

Clemson 24 Kentucky 13

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